Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sometimes It's OK To Steal My Games

This blog post is about the bright side of software piracy. It's about the times when not only is it OK to steal my games, but, in fact, I get something out of it. Perhaps an unusual topic for a blog post from a game developer.

I admit to being a little bit nervous about writing this. The sad truth is that, these days, it is so easy to pirate single-player PC games that most gamers only have to pay for them if they want to pay for them. And there is strong evidence (links below) to indicate that they usually don't want to pay for them. So giving people ammunition they can use to convince themselves that they shouldn't pay for my games seems perilous, especially since they are, after all, how I support my family. But I got into the blogging game to write about the reality of the game biz from the viewpoint of my shadowy little corner, and piracy is a huge part of it, so here we go.

Of Course, Piracy Is Almost Always Wrong

I think that the best way of evaluating the morality of an action is to ask, "What would happen if everyone who wanted to do it did it?" Littering and dumping toxic waste into rivers are wrong because, if everyone who wanted to do those things did them, our streets would be choked with refuse and our drinking water would be half benzene. And pirating PC games is wrong because, were it not for that minority of worthy souls who actually chip in, the industry that makes the games we love would descend into a shadow realm of tiny ad-supported Flash games and Farmville. Some people would be cool with that, but I'm looking forward to playing Starcraft 2, thanks.

And I've now set myself up for 50 comments of increasingly overwrought and implausible justifications for why pirating games is a good, noble thing to do. No. Sorry. You don't get everything you want in this world. You can get piles of cool stuff for free. Or you can be an honorable, ethical being. You don't get both.

Most of the time.

Because, when I'm being honest with myself, which happens sometimes, I have to admit that piracy is not an absolute evil. That I do get things out of it, even when I'm the one being ripped off.

Computers Exist In the Third World

Every so often, I get an e-mail in broken English from some kid in Russia or southeast Asia or India. He says how how he is playing my game in a cyber-cafe, for fun and perhaps to practice English. The disparity in the strength of the currency between our two countries makes it impossible it is for him to get the 25 or 28 hard US dollars to buy my game. (It's entirely possible in much of the world to not be dirt poor and yet to be entirely unable to scrape together a chunk of hard U.S. dollars.) The message ends with a sincere and heart-rending plea for a registration key.

Now, you're probably thinking, "Yeah, the kid is probably making it up." I doubt it. Remember, my games are easy to pirate. Anyone who wants to steal my games can grab them any time he or she wants. Maybe some of these pleas are fake, but I'm sure that most aren't.

When I get one of these message, what I want to respond is, "PIRATE MY STUPID GAME!!!" I mean, seriously, the time used drafting that e-mail would have been much more profitably spent figuring out how BitTorrent works.

But I don't say that. I delete the e-mail unanswered. Because, the truth is that these games are how I feed my family. Asking me for free keys is simply not a behavior I want to encourage.

But I really hope those kids pirated my game. And I am sure that, for every such e-mail I received, a horde of others in faraway lands pirated it on their own. Sometimes, thanks to the vagaries of the international monetary order, my games are just out of reach any other way. And, when people enjoy my work, it gives my life meaning, which bring me to ...

I Want My Life To Have Meaning

I consider myself a reasonably bright person, who works hard to make something people like. When I'm old and crumbling, I want to be able to feel that I had a successful life in which my work brought happiness to a lot of people.

I feel fully financially compensated for my time when one of my games (which usually takes a year or so to make) sells 5000 copies. However, from the game industry perspective, 5000 copies is nothing. Even the crappiest flop from a real publisher sells a ton more than that. So am I wasting my life? If I really care about the number of people I reach and the amount of happiness I bring, shouldn't I try to get a job somewhere where my work has a chance of reaching far more people?

But then I remember that for everyone who buys my game, dozens more just tried the demo. And a lot of those people will play the whole demo, have fun, decide they had enough, and move on. That counts as providing fun for people, sort of.

But, more importantly, the percentage of people who pirate PC games seems to be very high. It's possible that 90% of the copies of my games out there are pirated. There is definitely solid evidence that the piracy rate for PC games is that high, and believe me, there are a thousand ways to get my games for free. It happens a lot. And, if that figure holds, that brings the player base for each of my games to 50000. That is a number that can keep me from lying awake at night.

Of course, a lot of those people could have bought it but decided to pirate it instead. In other words, jerks. Which brings up a good question. Am I satisfied that my life's work went to make a jerk happy? Does that give me Life Value points? Is it a worthwhile thing to bring a jerk pleasure? This is generally the point where I force myself to think about something else.

But not everyone who steals a game has money. Some of them are legitimately poor. Which brings me to one final point.

The Recession Is a Thing That is Happening

These days, some people are legitimately poor. Many people, through a mix of poor fiscal choices and ill fortune, are in bad shape. Foreclosed on, or facing foreclosure. Trying to pay down a mountain of credit card debt. Unemployed for a long time. Lacking health insurance. Some people brush this growing population off, saying, "Oh, they brought it on themselves." And sometimes that is true. They made mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. I make mistakes. It's just that some people are unlucky enough to be savagely punished for their mistakes.

Someone who is facing long-term unemployment and bankruptcy probably should not pay for my game. And, in that case, if stealing my game gives them a temporary reprieve from their misery (and there's a lot of misery out there right now), I'm cool with that. I'm happy to help. These are my fellow citizens, and I want to help out how I can.

Now here is what I am NOT saying. If some kid has to actually save his allowance for a few weeks to buy the game, stealing it is instead of paying is not cool. I'm not OK with that. If you can pay, you should pay. But I understand that some people can't. It's reality. As for whether someone can truly pay or not, I have to trust them to be able to tell the difference. It's probably unwise to trust so many strangers so much with my livelihood on the line. But it's not like I have a choice.

How I Will Now Single-Handedly Solve the Problem of Piracy

I just have to add one thing, and then I can hopefully go without writing about this ugly topic for a good, long time. The way the economics of the business work right now, if you want good PC games, someone has to pay for them. You can't support a project like Starcraft 2 with ads. The money just isn't there.

If you like PC games but you usually pirate them, I want you to start actually paying for one game a year. Just one. Please. You should do it because you need to do it to help something you like to continue to exist. Sure, you might find that doing the virtuous thing feels surprisingly good. But, in the end, you should do it for the reason anyone ever really does anything: Because it is in your best interests to do so.

But what game should you pay for? It's tempting to say you should support some small Indie, like me, who is just working hard to support his family. But I don't believe that. The people who made Starcraft 2 have families to. No, buy the game that you feel most deserves to be rewarded. Who gave you the most fun, or carried the industry forward, or that you felt treated you fairly.

Maybe that game is Starcraft 2. Maybe it's Avernum 6 or Aveyond or Eschalon 2 or World of Goo or one of a million tiny games. It might even be Assassin's Creed 2. Could happen.

And, before you post flaming me because Piracy-Is-Always-Good or Always-Bad, remember that all I'm trying to do is pay a little visit to reality-land. And while I do get something out of piracy, all things being equal, it's better to pay for the thing you use. Again, with PC games, you can get cool free stuff, or you can be honorable. You don't get both. Once in a while, be part of the solution.


  1. I have to admit that I did pirate my copies of Avernum 4-6. Based on this article, I'll offer this in my defence: I'm a poor college student (though admittedly, reducing my intake of junk food and takeaway coffee for a few weeks would probably cover the cost of a game); I got hours of entertainment out of them, and when I graduate and (hopefully) get a job, I intend to pay for them.

    I'll also say this: I started with the Exile trilogy when I was about 10, played the demos over and over again, but my parents would never buy the full version for me. I got my first credit card at 19, and, flush with cash from a summer of farm labouring, the very first thing I bought was the Exile trilogy on CD.

    So, you've given me about 12 years of entertainment, Jeff - I fully intend to make it up to you. Promise.

  2. But Jeff! I pirate because I'm raging against the machine! And don't you know all games are derivative and unoriginal also piracy isn't stealing it's infringement!!11!

    Humor aside, I agree. If you hate games-as-a-service and getting micropaymented to death like pretty much everyone in the gaming community seems to, one of the best ways to counter the trend is to vote with your dollar and buy PC games.

    Potential game devs notice others' success. It encourages them to risk their time and effort on building new games. When you are a paying customer you help build those success stories, and that enriches the gaming ecosystem for everyone.

  3. Hi, I from Malaysia. I play you game. I like you game. Is good. I play demo only. Demo short. Not like long game. I do not give money for long game because I have family. Family need money for food. I have to go work and get money. I play long game I not work. I do not get money for feed family. Family hungry I sad. I play demo only. Demo finish I go to work get money for family.

    Thank you game carpenter. You make more game. I play more demo. I like you.

  4. Excellent label : TLDR
    But seriously, I love the games.

  5. I'm an anti-pirate. I've bought a bunch of Spiderweb games but only played through a few! (Perhaps a theme for another post.)

  6. The first game I've ever played of yours was Exile II (demo). I was 12 then and I remember playing it over and over on one of those crappy 350 GREAT GAMES CDs. I am now 21 and have played all of your games (at least, all Avernum and Geneforge titles) and give every gamer I know a heartfelt recommendation. My parents didn't believe in online shopping back then, and being a kid, I was desperate to get my hands on full versions of Exile I-III. I'm ashamed to admit that I pirated...every single Avernum title until I was able to pay on my own, but I did... Had I not pirated your games, I would never have payed for them, or given all the recommendations I have over the past few years of my life.

    I thank you for being completely reasonable about piracy. It's refreshing when a game developer feels this way.

  7. I like to steal stuff because it's fun. But you're cool so I buy your games.

  8. I think the real problem in the industry is the payment systems for games are inadequate. Other industries, like journalism, have the same problem and both industries are doing little to solve them.

    I can't find the statistics on this (does the industry try to collect any? If not, it's funny, then the industry whines at their own incompetence) but a lot of hours spent playing the game will be spent by kids. Kids who can't spend wildly with their credit cards or don't have much money won't spend it on a game and I don't think you'd want them to. But first you should know how many hours of gameplay are spent by which audience. Then you can decide whether you want that audience to pay you and how much.

    The payment system could be based on the amount of hours played and how the player rates the game. In most cases the data can be collected, most players have internet connections. Then the player can pay accordingly instead of paying an obsolete standardized price.

    You will make more money. The Humble Indie Bundle, using the pay what you want model, made a lot of money. Steam, by using subscriptions and streamlining the whole experience of getting games, makes money.

    Maybe the problem is game developers don't think they should have to focus on fancy payment schemes. They're game developers after all, they should spend most of their time on games. Obviously in the real world it doesn't work like that, if you want money you have to figure out new ways to get it and invest a lot of time in the effort.

    Journalism is in the same situation and they're not the ones who made flattr, they made zero effort to streamline payments for their users. Subscriptions to individual newspapers would be ridiculous online, as people read multiple newspapers through digg and reddit, then read lots of blogs that deserve just as much money.

    The only thing they tried were paywalls, so if they go out of business there is no excuse. The ethics arguments for game developers are a moot point. Laws must be enforceable to be taken seriously and no technology exists to enforce the laws you need enforced. Laws work on the principle of might is right and when you have no might you're wrong.

  9. When I was younger (10-18) I used to pirate all my games, because I didn't want to spend the little money I had on games, but played them all the time. Now that I'm in my 20's, I buy them, but don't have any time to play them. Perhaps that cancels out.

    Now I'll only pirate ones that actively try and piss me off, such as those with Ubisoft DRM.

  10. For most of the late 90s my friends and I would pirate every single game (Half Life, C&C games, etc) because we were simply poor high school kids. Now that we're in our late 20s, we hardly ever pirate games. Most of the reason is because we're earning now and it's more convenient to just use something like Steam.

    And with most of us that are earning decently in IT jobs, if any friend complains about spending $20-$50 on a game, we say "we pirated games all thru high school and college, about time we start paying." Nothing like a bit of peer pressure. :)

  11. I think that the only game I ever pirated was Civilization on the Amiga. Finally bought it when I got a PC with a hard disk (honestly playing Civ from 6 floppy disks was a royal pain).

    However in the recent years I have only bought three games, Eschalon 1 and the two Penny Arcade titles, because I have no truck with the DRM that they insist on adding.

    I've wanted to play loads of games, but I never bought them. Never will. I am looking forward to the new American McGee's Alice - the first one was an amazing game - but I'm pretty sure that the DRM will turn me off.

    Well, there is always Eschalon 2

  12. Interesting post.

    I'm not a gamer, but I've recently contributed to The Humble Indie Bundle. I say "contributed", and not "paid for", because:

    1) All the games were ported to Linux. Since I want more companies to port their games to Linux, I decided that I should contribute.

    2) They asked me to pay as much as I wanted -- in other words, it really gave me the feeling that I was making a contribution, not a simple and impersonal "purchase".

    3) There was a really interesting game in the pack -- The World of Goo -- which I wanted to play. (Having a good product also helps!)

    According to their site, "The Humble Indie Bundle experiment has been a massive success beyond our craziest expectations. So far, 138,813 generous contributors have put down an incredible $1,273,613".

    Contributing to The Humble Indie Bundle was much cheaper than the risk of downloading the pack from an unknown source, and I felt I was doing something Good.

    That's the key: if you have a good product and ask for voluntary contributions, you'll probably find out that people want to give back. Just make it easy for people to pay back.

  13. The reason I've decided to commercialize my next game effort is simply because more people will play a (pirated) commercial game as opposed to a freeware game.

    It's hard to get any attention nowadays as a freeware author. So I thought, if I were to invest in advertising just to promote a freeware game, might as well attach a price tag to it (since people's value perceptions are affected by price). Then people will go "Oh, so this game is $20? It must be polished!"

    I'm not even targeting 5000 buyers / 50,000 players. If even only 10,000 people will play it and 1,000 deem it worth paying money for it, I'll be really happy.

  14. Jeff,

    You also get more publicity when people pirate. Sometimes the demo isn't enough to grab people's attention (try cliffhangers!), but the full story is. The group of people who've played the game, widened by the pirates, may talk about it to other people, thus extending the range of people who know about your work and may be willing to buy it.

    That said, I've never pirated your games in my life, and never intend to. But I figure the more people that know about your work, the better, so I do mention it in conversation.

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  16. I pirated PC games back when I was in high school and didn't have a job -- now I have a job and I don't. If anything, I'm now with the inverse-pirate crowd; I buy more than I play.

    Which is one point I don't think you emphasized enough. Some of those pirates are younglings who will become fans for life and buy every new product you ever make, because they remember loving your work as a child. It's a long-term strategy that doesn't work particularly well with the short-term markets, but it DOES work sometimes.

  17. Rock, Paper, Shotgun had an interesting point on piracy figures recently (but I can't find it, of course).

    It was this:

    Pirates have vastly more games than people who pay.

    This can easily mean that more than 90% of the copies of a game are pirated, without it having any significant meaning in terms of lost revenue etc. It makes the raw figures quite confused.

    Pirates don't behave like paying customers.

    For example, I don't consider myself a pirate and I regularly spend real cash money on games; I've bought at least two dozen this year, and have received more as presents which were bought by others.

    However, if you looked at my hard drive and counted up all the paid-for games, versus the pirated ones, then about 99% would be pirated simply because a few years ago I installed Mame.

  18. That's a great article, I've spoken to lot's of musicians about music piracy and they pretty much all agree that if someone really cannot afford to buy music (and that's a lot of the world) none of us would want to deprive them of the enjoyment music provides, and if they want to listen to ours, then kudos flows :) But if you can afford it, then you should pay, paying usually brings convenience, so for those that are well remunerated for their efforts the pay option should be a no-brainer as their time is of high financial value.

  19. My paid game is World of Goo. My opinion is that they got their stuff right. But my favorite games are old and not buyable anymore, or just opensource (like openttd, gta3 etc.).

    Great post!

  20. I think your strongest point was the last one.

    There are very good reasons to become a paying customer, because you're encouraging game developers to make more of the stuff you like. You provide incentives for them to make updates and fixes and to provide customer support.

    If you really enjoy a game, you need to support it with your money.

  21. were it not for that minority of worthy souls who actually chip in, the industry that makes the games we love would descend into a shadow realm of tiny ad-supported Flash games and Farmville.

    You left out the whole world of online subscription-based games. A big reason that such games are doing well is because they generate revenue from everyone who plays, rather than relying on the honor system.

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  23. Please take the following as a compliment. I know two people who pirate most of their games but pay for yours. When I asked why, they both replied that yours were a better value than [insert ridiculously large percentage here] of all games.

    I had no comeback.

  24. I admit, I pirated your games at first. I played them, enjoyed them....

    ... and felt horrible. You're just one guy with a family. No huge development house, no publisher. My $30 would go straight to you.

    I paid for my stuff and will never pirate from you again. It may not be very principled, but it's true.

  25. Hi Jeff,

    Here is an idea of how you might be able to encourage more people to pay for the game. The idea is surely not original, but here goes:

    What if you had a rule whereby every willing paying customer gets his name into the contributors section or something like that in the next game you make?

    You could make a screen titled Spiderweb Nation or Hall of Honor or something like that (I am sure you'd come up with a catchier title)? It would have to look cool with each name in a fancy font and all that jazz. The list could be alphabetical, but each contributor would have his name in one of 3 colors iron, silver, gold. When you scroll over the name you could animate a little sparkle or something to make it look all snazzy. Also people could have their # of titles next to their name. Maybe you could even show a little twitter-like self comment about each person by hovering over their name with a mouse.

    It's a small thing, but I'd bet it wouldn't take that much work on your part and it would add the element of recognition for the paying customers that have supported you over the years. You could also have a random person from the list selected during every load of the game application, as a little 'tooltip' like section at the bottom of the main menu.

    Of course it might seem like shameless pandering to some but hey, it's not the worst kind of it! :)

  26. You are the authour of these games, and are, thus, allowed to say and think what you want about them. However, may I offer an opinion from a new customer in a largely forgotten demographic.

    Hello, I am the on;y bread winner in a little small town family of 3. I have a middle class job, which effectively as a single income family means we stradle the line between upper lower class and lower middle class. Tiny house, tiny, tiny car, vaccations in tents, etc.

    I get about $30 personal spending money a month. This month I spent that $30 on one of your games. Now I feel stupid for doing so. I basically paid the $30 for your blessing to play the game, because I never pirate anything (movies, games, books, music, etc). Apparently though, were I just a tiny bit poorer (making just $30 less a month), I would have ended the month with a pirated version of your game and, apparently, your blessing. I thus, scrimped and saved all month for nothing. That was $30 I could have spent on 30 used vinyl records, or uncancelled the cable and enjoyed hundreds of shows, or bought 30 used comics, or bought a ton of books at the used book store. Instead, I bought your game. Like a big, dumb jerk apparently.

    May I ask a couple of questions:

    1: Why is anyone who is too poor to even manage $30 in desperate need of YOUR game in particular? I am currently playing Ahriman's Prophecy as well, and that is legit free. I can also play Alien Hominid, N+, and a ton of other freeware stuff for free. I could also tire of the first Avernum and play the insanely long demos of Avernum 2-6, Nethergate, and Genforge 1-5 legally for free. We are not talking a loaf of bread to feed a family here. We are talking one game (a luxury) that costs money instead of a million actually free alternatives. In fact, if someone can't swing the $30 for Avernum, they could just spend $5-$10 on Diablo or Fate in the value spindle at Wal-Mart.
    So just because a poor person cannot afford one of your games does not condemn them to a life of sadness and boredom, does it?

    2) Why are the insanely long demos of all those games not enough for people in other countries who can't get the money together in U.S. funds? I'd like to be able to take a bus to an art museum. I'd like to walk to the Effile Tower. I'd like to be able to watch the Doctor Who Christmas specials when they are broadcast. I'd like to have Retro Gamer available at my local newstand. I'd like to make Jag Fest. I'd love to have it warm enough in the winter I didn't have to spend hours shoveling every week. However, I live here, so there are certain things people in other countries get to have and do that I do not. That is no excuse for me to stow away in the baggage compartment of a plane, is it?

    Anyway, just speaking as a customer with less monthly disposable income than kids getting allowance, I wanted to say don't excuse people without much money from paying for your products. Games are a luxury, and pay games are a luxury that costs money. There are lots of things like that, and I can't pirate a car, or a PS3, or a trip to Europe, so why should your game be any different? I like music, so I buy used records. I like books, so I use the library. Your games are no different. I have to do without what I can't afford until I can afford it. I don't see how it being really, really hard to afford makes that any different.

  27. Hi Jeff,

    I like the way you see your job, and bought a few of your games to my nephews.

    Regarding the people, for example in foreign countries, who cannot afford your games, instead of not replying to them, why don't you invent some "Spiderweb Foundation For Fun" which would grant courtesy licenses to the ones you feel deserving it. They could then play your games for free, yet be bound by a moral contract to, for example, report detailed feedback to further enhance your games. That way they would trade their time for real money, and everybody would be happy?

  28. You hit the nail right on the head.

    Back in my high-school days, I had virtually no disposable income, and pirated tons of stuff (over 500 floppy disks of C-64 games).

    As I got older, my income increased (and truth be told, my game-playing-time decreased), and I was able to start paying for my software. Today, I don't remember the last thing I pirated.

    [There was one awesome DOS-based puzzle game, that I copied from a friend shortly before the Web took off. Later, when the Web HAD arrived, I tracked down the author, found out he actually lived nearby, visited him in person, thanked him, and bought his complete collection of puzzle games.]

    Today, if I want it, I buy it. If it's too expensive, I wait until it isn't. If it has obnoxious DRM, I might consider buying THEN pirating. Or just waiting til it comes out on GOG. :)

    But my pirating days DID start me out in a hobby that means alot to me, and that (now), I am able and more than willing to pay for...

  29. It seems to be a recurring theme in the post and in the comments that the artists or creators of games, music, etc. are often of the opinion that if you really can't afford it, it's "okay" to pirate it, but if you can pay, you should. To me, this sounds exactly like a "pay what you want" scheme. A pay what you want scheme literally tells people that they can have the game for free if they really can't afford it, but if they can, it would be nice if they would pay. You can even have a suggested price. Couple this with a donation option (i.e. if someone played the game already for free, but liked it, and decide they do want to send some money your way, they can donate) and you've set up the ideal payment scheme according to the arguments made in the post. Kids who can't afford the game now can play for free and donate later. People who do have the means, like many of the commenters on this post, would likely still pay something like full price (I certainly would).

    Of course, most people will play for free, but like you say, most people pirate now anyway. The Humble Indie Bundle, as well as several other indie games that tried a pay what you want scheme showed that one can still make a good profit that way (although those examples were all only offering it for a short time, which probably boosted sales).
    If you want to test it out, you could always try it for a limited duration like they did and see how it works.

  30. Very interesting post, Jeff. As a fellow indie developer, something hit me the other day: we're being patronized. Not in the modern sense, in the classic good sense. People pay for our games because... they want to.

    Well, that sort of goes without saying, right? Nobody has a gun to anyone's head here, and these are entertainment products. But more specifically, they are SO incredibly easy to steal. I don't know what the piracy rate is for AI War, but it sure makes the rounds. And my game Tidalis was up on torrent sites and such the very day it came out, which was also distressing.

    But I don't lose much sleep over that at the moment. Like you, I'm able to support my family (and a small staff and their families) doing this, and that's the main thing that counts. People give us money because they want to reward us for this thing they made (or in some cases because they don't know how to pirate or don't want to get caught, but even then they buy the game because they think it is good). So: in a very literal sense, that makes them our patrons. They're giving us money so that we can continue to explore the art of game design and make more stuff that they will also want.

    In a lot of very real senses, it's as simple as that, I think.

  31. If everyone wanted to be a medic, we would have no plumbers, cooks, judges, policemen, bus driver, teachers, etc. So, it's wrong to try to be a medic.

  32. I think it's also interesting that piracy serves an unintended purpose: it archives games that might be lost, such as add-ons that were sued out of existence.

    I doubt it's the goal of a pirate, but it's interesting nonetheless. Through piracy, there's now this global network of digital archiving in place. Games that might have disappeared twenty years from now will still be alive, I think.

    There was an interesting post on piracy vs buying. The figure that the developer came up with was something else: out of 1000 pirated downloads, 1 of them was probably someone who would've bought your game. The 999 others wouldn't even if they had the money.

    Piracy is a big deal, and it's stealing, but it's also an interesting case study in how people work and how digital entertainment is moving away from the copyright system towards the patron system.

    I think everyone has pirated at some point. The most one can do - once they have pirated something - is realize that if they got enjoyment from it, they should buy it.

  33. @Angelo: A truly facile argument. You presume a homogeneity of humanity that has never and will never exist. My test is designed for the world we actually live in. If humanity ever undergoes a drastic and total change, I'll rethink what I said. Neither of us should hold our breaths.

    I could dismiss equally unconvincing objections ("But everyone wants to be a billionaire CEO, so ...") by changing the formulation to

    ""What would happen if everyone who wanted to do it and had the opportunity to do it did it?"

    but there comes a point where it is counter-productive to argue the obvious.

    - Jeff Vogel

  34. About the Humble Indie Bundle, I am not sure what to say. I've thought about it a lot, and, while it was a big one-time success for a lot of already well-known and successful titles, I'm not sure how viable a business model it is for all genres and all lengths of time after release.

    Also, I believe it was only a huge success because of the ENORMOUS attention is received. The more people who take the pay-what-you-want tack, the less attention it will get. And then you're stuck with getting a buck a game from a modest about of people. And are thus screwed.

    I am really conflicted on this, so I'm shutting up about it until I can see more evidence from the field.

    - Jeff Vogel

  35. ""What would happen if everyone who wanted to do it and had the opportunity to do it did it?"

    I think everyone who wants to pirate and has the opportunity to does already. What would happen is what is already happening: the game industry would experiment with new ways to make money.

  36. Jeff.

    I never realy pirated games, not even when i got my first mac, in fact, i'm really happy to buy games.

    Of course, before i got my new visa electron card, that i could attach to my PayPal account and make purchases that way, it was kinda hard for a kid like me to buy games (bank transfers aren't an option)

    Also, with steam being released to the mac, i note that i'm actually buying games more, as Steam is a "fair" and "consumer friendly" DRM.

    You should consider trying to get mac versions of your games on steam. Heck, i'd buy them.


    I don't think that pirating TV shows is that bad.

  37. I'll be the first to admit that I have pirated a number of games. However, most of these games have been older ones, that I would have picked up off eBay or second-hand somewhere. However, I have also pirated new games. But, in my defense, I play them for a bit, if I think they deserve my money, I buy them. If not, I don't. I don't think there has been a game that I have pirated, played more than a few hours, and enjoyed playing that I haven't purchased. If I like it, I buy it, otherwise, I delete it and move on. Most of my game piracy was limited to when I first realized I could get games for free. Now, I pay for them, except for the occasional older title that I can't find retail or through Steam.

  38. I have neither bought or played your games (I play maybe the three best reviewed XBox titles per year, plus all the Rock Band they can ship). I have bought your book (once for myself, three times for other new dads), in spite of the fact that I read it online. Nothing really to say here before you get inundated by Slashdot, but you should know that there are those who find ways to support you because of you.

  39. Question: Have you considered dropping your prices? As much as I loved the Exile games back in the 90s, I personally think 75 bucks is a bit steep for the Geneforge collection.

    I don't dispute that PC game piracy is rife, but there is also evidence -, - that the cheaper a game gets, the more dramatically the purchase rate increases.

  40. @Aleks - I wonder how many current players found Exile II (and Exile I) demo on one of those program/shareware collection CDs... I found it the same way, hehe.

    I'm a musician/composer and generally agree with the sentiment expressed. Since it's not my day job, I can afford to price my compositions that nobody buys quite cheaply, too. :) I also offer various ones for free if I feel inclined to do so... and I really do feel way more satisfied when I hear about someone that liked them (either playing or hearing them) than simply getting money. The fun is in knowing someone else enjoyed something you did (and, of course, you liking what you do!), not getting money.

    I think it's interesting that in the comments, there are a lot of "I'm getting back at evil game companies by pirating" sentiments. That sentiment assumes two things:
    1. Morally/ethically, it's up to the consumer to decide if he should pay for something.
    2. The consumer should decide this based on the organization selling or quality of the game.

    I have a major problem with #1. I can understand not liking the way companies act, but I was not aware that one company acting in what you think is an unethical or annoying way (DRM, wages, whatever) is an excuse to do the same, heh. To put it in this light: if Jeff V. was a jerk, I may FEEL less sorry about pirating his games, but I don't see how it makes it ok. It just makes me feel ok about it, because I can rationalize it... or at least, excuse it.

    And so the circle continues, with neither of two things happening:

    1. Pirates don't simply stop playing the games instead of pirating. This is interesting, because some people pirate "out of spite" while others say pirating increases revenue and publicity for the game producer. Which means either (1) those pirating out of spite are actually helping the company they want to hurt or (2) pirating does not increase revenue and publicity (at least not both)...

    2. Game companies rarely change their ways and DRM vs. Pirates just continues on.

    I am with whoever it was that said if they can't afford it, they wait until they can. If I don't like it enough to pay for it, I just play the demo. If I like it but don't think it's a wise decision to buy it right now, I save. If I like it and I can buy it, I ask my wife, and then buy it. It's pretty simple.

  41. @Jamie: "Question: Have you considered dropping your prices? As much as I loved the Exile games back in the 90s, I personally think 75 bucks is a bit steep for the Geneforge collection."

    $15 a game for five full-length games is a fair price.

    Lowering a price raises sales. There is no question of that. But I doubt it will raise sales enough. If you halve your price, you have to double sales. Doubling sales is HARD.

    Remember, I write a niche product, for a small audience of fanatical fans, with almost no competition. You can't price that like you would a casual game with a million competitors for a huge audience.

    - Jeff Vogel

  42. There's a recurring theme of "I couldn't afford it when I was a kid, but now that I've grown up..." This is where we get the economics idea of "marget segmentation", a.k.a. "charge less to the kids, students, and old people".

    As with all markets, the buyer wants to pay the absolute minimum, and the seller wants to wring out every last dollar from the buyer. Prices are set with this in mind. But as the above demographics have less money, they price they're willing to pay is less. So you charge them less to get some money out of them, which is better than nothing.

    The problem is getting proof that people really are under 18 or are a student. Movie theatres can do it - they check your ID. Buses and trains can do it, same reason. Music, DVD and software sales over-the-counter... they don't. (Unless you're Microsoft and offering a student edition of Windows or something.) So maybe this problem is intractable?

  43. @Calroth: "So maybe this problem is intractable?"

    Probably, sadly, unless the game is sold in stores. Then you can have a student/seniors discount. This already happens all the time for, say, Office for students.

    - Jeff Vogel

  44. I used to heavily pirate games - mostly as a teenager on the C=64 and Amiga. I was in a couple of groups back in the 1200-2400 baud days.Why did I do it? Lack of money and a ravenous desire to play everything our there. I basically collected games.

    As an adult I would pirate games I was mostly interested in, not to collect everything like I did as a teen. If I really liked a game I would buy it (usually after I finished it). My reasoning was if I enjoyed it that much they deserved my money. I did pirate many games over the years that I played for a few minutes and felt glad I didn't waste my money - there have been alot of bad games released. The reasons I pirated at this time were little disposable income, and as such I had to make every dollar count. I admittedly used some games as an extended demo, or trial. I got burnt buying an game once in a while that was a complete turd. Unfortunately there was no recourse in most cases - (Example: Megarace).

    Two things changed for me:
    I started playing Everquest. Like it or not I was paying for that one. Other than my monthly payment and cost for addons, I wasn't buying anything else. I also wasn't playing anything else or pirating anything anymore. Believe it or not everquest got me out of debt from a bad marriage. I just stopped eating out, going to bars, etc. I just wanted to play EQ and at $9.95 a month it was a bargain. Hell that was the cost of a beer or two. Eventually I stopped playing EQ.

    Around this time I got a pretty good job. I had some money to spare and was out of debt. I started buying video games. Rarely at full price (unless I really wanted it). I read multiple reviews and tried to be more protected as a consumer. There were a few games I would buy that maybe I didn't like that much, but they were not grossly misrepresented or completely broken. So I didn't feel I got ripped off.

    More recently I have really begun to see the advantage to steam. When steam first came out I was in the DRM is absolutely bad camp. No way no how. I've purchased many games on steam over the years and I've come to appreciate their approach. I've even bought cheap steam versions of some of my favorite games so I don't have to deal with finding all the patches and dealing with the entire mess. I also get some good bargains if I wait. I think it really is the future of gaming. While it won't help some of the past transgressions I have done, I hope as a consumer by voting with my dollars I can ensure that games I consider good are rewarded (by buying them) vs pirating them. Hopefully this will encourage developers to continue to take some of the risks they do (see Borderlands) and create games in the genres I like.

    Do I think pirating is ok? Well it depends. You made the game. You can decide whether or not you want to give some people a pass on it.

  45. I pirated a lot when I was in Uni. I worked full time and studied full time and barely had enough money to eat and pay the rent. Once I got a decent job I actually went back and bought most of my favourite games.
    Now days I'm against pirating and against DRM. I wanted to play Assasin's Creed 2 and thought he price on steam was reasonable. But I didn't pick it up due to the DRM. Haven't pirated it either. Steam and Impulse are both fantastic, it's become easier to legitimately own a game than pirate it and that is a major step forwards

  46. Oh also played lots of spiderweb demos. Think I bought Geneforge and one of the Avernums. But never finished them :)

  47. I used to pirate because I hated dealing with all kinds of payment things, and because I always lost my downloads and keys or forgot where I got them or even forgot that I ever had a game in the first place and never thought about it again. I reformat all the time and who knows where those discs went?

    Steam made me start buying games. These days I don't buy things that aren't on it, but I don't acquire them in any other ways either. It utterly amazes me how much a payment and download method is able to control my purchasing habits, but then I realize how much of a hassle these things can be for a game that I'm paying $10 or $20 for.

    (I tend to get games on sale. Please don't feel bad, all you game developers out there. I don't have much time to play games and I probably won't ever get more than 1/4 of the way through any of them, but I wanted to support you anyway and who knows, they might really draw me in.)

    This kinda seems off-topic, but it's just something I like to point out to self-publishers. Your games are probably cool, I might have enjoyed the demo a bit, but I'm not going to fuss with buying it. If you put out an earlier game in the series, or a pack of them, for $5 on Steam though...I probably will buy them. Is it worth the effort? Who knows. I won't buy 'em at full price, but as a representative of the secondary market, I wholeheartedly support you if you're willing to make it easy for me.

  48. In my particular case, I started seeing significantly improved sales numbers after I started pirating my own products. It is a bit counter-intuitive, but I see piracy as an extremely inexpensive and noninvasive form of advertising. I've said it hundreds of times, pirates make up the oldest and largest social network. Bigger than Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn combined.

    There are weirdos out there who will download anything and everything they find, various aggregators and "release sites" that serve as a news feed for downloadables, and torrent forums where people discuss the ill-gotten goods. Without spending a dime, I can reach hundreds of thousands of non-customers in the space of a few days. They probably won't buy, but if they like the product they will spread the word sincerely and enthusiastically. For the most part they won't burden me with support requests but if/when they do, I treat it like a sales opportunity.

    Granted, the software I peddle belongs to a small, professional niche. It probably doesn't appeal to 3rd world kids so the dynamic is a bit different, but it still boils down to the fact that some people will pay for all their software, some will pirate selectively, and some people just won't ever pay for software unless you hold a gun to their head. If you can't squeeze money out of the latter, at least try to use them as advertising volunteers :)

  49. "The disparity in the strength of the currency between our two countries makes it impossible it is for him to get the 25 or 28 hard US dollars to buy my game."

    Yeah, buy into the fantasy because you've never spent a year in a 3rd world country. I saw the kids in China, with plenty of money to spend every day going to the internet cafe 3-4 hours ($.25/hour in small cities / $.50/hour in Shanghai). They could (and WOULD) get the money together if stealing wasn't such an easy option.

    It also blows my mind that you defend people who "don't have enough money" due to unemployment, etc. Are you kidding me? It's completely analogous to time. We say it so often we FORGET the real meaning, but "I don't have time to do X" doesn't mean literally in 99% of cases that we couldn't get the time somehow. Instead it means "I don't VALUE X highly enough to expend my time on it." In the same way they don't "value" the moral goodness of paying for their entertainment highly enough to inhibit themselves from stealing it and just pay for the damn thing. They DO value their freedom from imprisonment enough, however, to pay for their (easily forgo-able) cigarette habbit.

    Moral evasion: one of homo sapiens most evolved skills.

  50. @Angelo, @Jeff re facile argument.

    Angelo's counter-argument, "if everyone wanted to be a medic..." is clearly and patently wrong. Everyone can litter. It costs nothing to do, and my doing it doesn't stop someone else from doing it. However, the world would stop functioning if everyone tried to become a medic. And well before that happened, the incentive to become one of the fast-becoming-scarce professions would grow so large that people would choose to not be medics.

    Jeff's system, "evaluate morality by asking what happens if everyone does it" is a decent rule of thumb, but it can't be pushed too hard. There's a balance to be had. There're lots of things that are good at some level and bad at some other level. Some logging is good. Too much logging is bad. Emitting some CO2 doesn't hurt; emitting too much does. Eating some junk food is fine; eating too much can kill you.

    There is no absolute morality. The best we can do, and the best we have done, is find by trial-and-error a set of rules that society is more or less satisfied by.

    Pirates vs. authors is an economic balancing act in progress. Jeff recognized this when he said he feels fully financially compensated when he sells 5000 games and emotionally satisfied if 50000 people play his games. That's his balance.

  51. Baldur's gate 2 was an interesting one for me. I bought it when it first came out, then played it until disc 2 died (damn that copy protection that required disc 2 to be in the drive every time you played it). So I bought the collector's pack to replace my bad disc 2, and that disc 2 died after a while too, so after a break of a couple of years I pirated it. My laptop's OS died, and the ISO hadn't been backed up as it was non-essential so just about a month ago I bought a third copy of the game (now on DVD instead of CD). Here's hoping I can rescue Imoen this time around!

    I wonder how much I've spent on that one game that I really love over the years.

  52. I think you're skewing the debate quite a bit. Regardless of which side you fall on, the problem isn't so much a matter of people taking something from the creator without appropriately providing compensation, but that the creator isn't doing what they could be doing to provide value to the product.

    In a world where anything that can be digitized can also be infinitely copied, expecting people to "have a heart" and do the "honorable" thing by giving creators money for their creations just isn't enough, and it's not at all because the creator doesn't deserve it, but because the creator hasn't provided something compelling enough to spend money on.

    Clever creators, and by clever I mean business savvy creators that are more in tune with their audience, have used many compelling reasons to get people to "buy" creations, but not in the conventional sense. Crowd-sourcing has become a popular way for artists and such to be more creative with their audience, by giving the audience a chance to influence the work in some manner, and that's just one way of making money to help fund a project and make a living.

    All creators, including you, are going to have to face facts: the introduction of the internet has changed world economics forever. Guilt trips will get you nowhere, while innovative adaptation will you get you everywhere.

    The internet has provided an extremely valuable resource for all creators to use at their discretion as they see fit, and it provides much easier access to their audience but at a cost; you have to work harder to bring that audience to you. If you want the luxury of getting your work out there for everyone to see, then you want to go with a publisher. It's clearly obvious that being an independent developer, that is not what you want, so you assume the risk that you won't have nearly as much advertising power to make your product stand out and be heard.

    There's nothing wrong with that IF you take the time to figure what your audience would do to pay for your games. The market has never been so strong and prominent as it is right now, and if you can't adapt, then you shouldn't expect a return on your investment. Adapt, innovate, create real reasons and many options for your audience to pay, and you will live far more comfortably than if you just sell your product by itself.

  53. @cape1232: I don't want to argue this point too much, as it makes it sound like I'm trying to come up with a Absolute Rule Of Morality For Now and Ever, and that sort of job is above my pay grade. :-)

    It's just a personal rule of thumb, but I think it's a good one. And, in the case of software piracy, I think my rule is spot on.

    - Jeff Vogel

  54. I don't feel there is ever a justification for piracy, let alone cheating a game. However if you feel that people playing are more important than people paying, that's your prerogative.

    But keep in mind that your post, many kids will just TL;DNR and think you said "Pirate my games, I don't care."

    What is eventually going to happen, is that the big money is going to be invested in online-only (real multiplayer or fake multiplayer (eg farmville, cowclicker, etc)) games, and the independents that don't have the infrastructure will producing the single player games... the very games that get pirated the most.

    As for "can't vs won't", the same argument is said about cheating. Many people who pirate the game, may feel no qualms about cheating playing it as well, and may get about 10 minutes of play out of what was supposed to be an at least a 5 hour play. But people who actually Pay for the game, are more likely to not cheat the game and actually play it as it was intended.

    Is it wrong to pirate? Of course. Does everyone do it? More than likely (though language barriers are more justifiable reasons to play a pirated-translated copy, than figure out how to even buy it from the developer.)

    Personally I buy everything I want to sink time into. If I don't want to play it, I look for someone else playing it on Youtube.

  55. You know I must agree with you. I think pirating is a kids game. Once you get older and have a bit more money I say spread it around. I'll be honest, I am a designer and if it weren't for pirating I would never have been able to afford all the productivity software I messed around with when I was a kid and through University. One of these days I will be able to afford Adobe Creative Suite, and when that day comes, and it will come, maybe even soon, my existence on planet earth will finally be redeemed. Hoy!

  56. @Jeff: I totally agree it's a fine rule of thumb.

    But in the same way you'd be sad if everyone was a pirate, you might be sad if no one was a pirate. As Billco said, to some extent piracy is advertising.

    There are lots of good ideas in the comments so far. I think there's a lot of good work going on these days in terms of market segmentation. You even do it: free is ok to poor people, not ok to non-poor people. But others have tried to take it to another level, as you're probably aware.

    One example is someone (Doctorow?) who put different "extras" with his book depending on your price point. E.g. for $10,000 you get the book and dinner with the author.

    That kind of segmentation and scarcity, when done right, can be exactly the incentive people who can pay need to entice them to actually pay.

    The value of some good is in the eye of the purchaser. You set the minimum: whatever it costs you to cover your basic expenses. But why should someone who gets $50 of enjoyment out of your $30 game not pay $50.

    We have an ingrained notion that things should cost the same for everyone, which is weird because not everyone values everything the same. The trick is that no one wants to voluntarily pay more to get exactly the same thing as someone who paid less. Your task is to find a reason for them to do so.

  57. I rarely pirate things, because I practice what I call "ethical piracy". It's my personal philosophy, one that has served me well.

    Basically, anything that is remotely new is off-limits. I set the limit at 2 console generations ago. Anything that's still in retail stores (not thrift shops or used-only stores) is off-limits. And if I like the games, I try to support the publisher by buying their newer stuff. Most importantly, never steal from someone who will notice the lost income.

    I pirated a bunch of SNES and PS1 roms. I pirated a couple ancient PC games (nothing newer than Quake). I pirated a few Japanese games I couldn't buy if I wanted to. I have no qualms about those, because they have already made a huge profit for the developers. I consider it basically free advertising, saying "hey, we made these, now we're making blah, buy that if you like our old stuff".

    Quite a few I liked. That was how I discovered Final Fantasy, for instance. I still haven't bought an FF game, but I did buy one of Square's newer games, The Last Remnant. I did eventually buy Quake, once it was on Steam. I bought an Unreal series bundle after liking the original.

    Most important, really, is the last qualifier I listed. Never steal from someone who will notice it, as in actually feel the missing money. I have never pirated an indie game. I feel no qualms about stealing a decade-old game from a major publisher. I absolutely will not, however, steal from a small artist. Never.

    Johnathan Coulton has publicly told people to pirate his music. I will not do that. Not because his music is bad; I loved his songs in Portal and Left 4 Dead. I just refuse to pirate from even a relatively small artist.

    So, that's what I encourage. I have called people out for pirating brand-new games. If you need to play some games, but can't afford anything, follow Ethical Piracy. Go find an emulator, a good rom site, and play the classics. Most importantly, don't hurt the industry.

  58. Hi Jeff

    Interesting piece. Being in Australia I'll give you another reason people pirate. They charge us double here. RRP is $130AU that comes to $116USD for a AAA title or to convert that to a universal currency, 21 large big mac meals.

    I do purchase many games but even earning a decent wage I often have to wait until they hit the bargain bin or just bomb up on older games when steam has a sale.

    Impulse buy range for me is $5 - $20 I'll buy just to see what its like, I'll have to want a game to pick it up at $40, and the $70+ range is only for exceptional games (starcraft 2, demon souls etc as an aside how many people would you estimate bought starcraft 2 after having pirated the first one back in the day?).

    I'll be trying your demo, who know you might get another sale today.

    Cheers - Kactus

  59. I hope nobody just reads the title and runs off to bittorrent.

  60. Oh and one more thing

    RE: The doubling sales if you halve the price thing -

    Remember the figures there are increase in dollars not units shipped.

  61. I, for one, must thank you for making Blades of Exile. It was one of my many inspirations to pursue a career on this industry.

    About the subject of the post, what can I say? I never bought the game, but a friend of mine (we both live in Rio de Janeiro), once bought it, circa 1996. At that time, it was very easy to buy it. Now, I simply dont know. Maybe it is and Im just convinced it is not. Maybe I should consider the idea of buying it for myself...

    Just to add some more meaningful information to the post:
    Sometimes games just arent available for us. Specially when we want to buy it from Apple's AppStore (we're allowed to buy it, but few good games are available - its a separate AppStore), or Android Marketplace (getting more usual these days around here, but still, NO PAID APPS).

  62. Just to clarify, I only played the demo.

  63. Hey Jeff! I'm glad to see someone FINALLY GETS IT. Piracy is not about good vs. evil. It's about economics. Plain and simple. If people don't have money to buy a game/CD/DVD/whatever, they won't. It's not a lost sale (at least, not due to piracy but to the recession, the hyperinflation due to the bad policies of the Federal Reserve, the war in Iraq, you name it).

    Also I'd like to mention you another possibility: The need to use a credit card to get a purchase online. And unfortunately, outside the U.S. at least in Asia, Africa or Latin America, it is DAMN HARD to get a credit card. You have due payments in your mortgage, you don't have a good credit history (or none at all), whatever. I'm 35, and I only managed to get my first credit card this month. And that was because a relative gave me a hand. Go figure.

    So what happens when I try to purchase something online? Buzz. My credit card got blocked because my bank blocks automatic payments of more than $90 USD.

    Purchasing a game online is not so easy as some people think. Sometimes it's just better to download the torrent. Again, it's a matter of economics and common sense. People don't go through a series of phone calls, visits to the bank, etc. so that they can SPEND money. They get in long lines or go through a long series of phone calls so they GET PAID or at least SPEND LESS. But doing all that bureaucratic stuff just so they can buy a game online? It's just not worth it. It's so much easier to search TPB for the torrent and make a few clicks. Or maybe go to a flea market downtown and spend 10 bucks to get a cheap CD with pirated games inside.

    Is this a lost sale? Probably. But who's to blame? The end user? Pirates who sell CDs for profit? Or the financial institutions who still haven't figured out that people DO WANT an easy way to spend their money?

    Anyway, thanks for writing and thanks for sharing your opinion. I wish you luck with your sales.

  64. I have to wonder if an analogy to taxes would get the message across? If everyone in the USA all decided to stop paying taxes completely (and I mean every form of tax there is), then in short order governing bodies would go bankrupt, fire departments would survive based on volunteers, policing would have to end, our cracked and potholed roads would go unfixed and get worse (some lives would be lost eventually as they decayed into undrivable and dangerous conditions), etc, etc, etc.

  65. @Jeff: "If you halve your price, you have to double sales. Doubling sales is HARD."

    The other thing you could think of doing is offering bundles of licenses -> say, 75 bucks for 4 licenses to all five games (one for yourself, and three to give away). I know with Steam, when they dropped prices on Civ IV 75%, I bought four copies and gave them away as gifts.

    Anyway, just another anecdotal drop in the bucket for you.

  66. A very nicely written article, and it's nice to hear from a Human Being on the developer side of this issue. When I was a kid/teen and had no personal income (not even allowance!) I was forced to pirate everything. Even my first couple of years working in the late 90s, I still pirated as my income was barely enough to support myself.

    Nowadays, I buy virtually everything. I buy far more than I play. I own over 80 games on my Steam account, only a dozen of which I've actually played. Of the other 70-odd, I've played about half of them a little bit, and the other half are either games in a series that I like that I haven't had a chance to play, or games that I pirated when I was younger and have become available on Steam as classic games, which I've immediately purchased up as I feel it's my responsibility to do so even if I'll never play them again.

    Anyway, what I'm getting to is, most pirated games thesedays seem to be youth who certainly wouldn't pay for the game otherwise. Even reading comments from other posters here, it seems this is fairly common. Sure, there's jerks who - like you say - are able to pay for something, and just decide not to. Most of my adult friends buy games, even though these same people pirated every game they could until they were in their mid 20s and earning a decent income. Adult piracy seems to focus more around TV episodes, movies, and music - mainly brought on my the industry which makes it so difficult to get movies, for instance, in a convenient, high quality, portable format.

    Best of luck with all your endeavours!

  67. I strive to get a complete collection of all games ever made. On all platforms from all ages.

    I play a lot of games, I buy the ones I think *if I couldnt get access to *all* Games, which ones would I actually own*. Im pretty extreme though, I bought an iPhone to play Zen Bound and a PlayStation 3 for Flower.

    But I always keep a pirated copy of every game I can. I cant be the only one.

  68. This comment has been removed by the author.

  69. 2tec said...

    I believe that people don't pay because the prices are unfair. Copyright laws have been corrupted by big business trying to get more than its fair share. If prices were reasonable, for all peoples, including the poor and those in the third world, much more software would be sold. Most software and media is just so overpriced that most people in the world simply can't afford it. Meanwhile, some software sellers are the richest people on the planet. This is the real piracy in my view.

  70. I'm not a gamer, so my opinion might not be of any concern to you, but... if I buy software, I don't want to get merely a restricted EULA-- I want freedom to do what I want with my purchase. I am of the crowd that is more than willing to pay for software-- just as long as it's free software (eg, BSD or GPL licensed) that I can modify and share freely.

  71. I actually found out about your games on piratebay. I pirated the first one and never paid for it. Later on, I got one from your website. I paid for it but for some reason the registration code didn't work. The game would never accept the code. I sent your company a message to get some help, but it turned out to be easier to just get a keygen from pirate bay.

    I never would have found out about your games if I didn't pirate them first.

  72. And I'll probably by another game because of this post... later on when I have a job again.

  73. Thanks for making Slashdot; I'm glad to find out Spiderweb is still around! I'm one of your customers who actually bought Exile III (but never finished it, alas).

  74. I like Christopher M. Park's comment about patronage. If anything said in this entire discussion has been spot-on, THIS IS IT.

    There is, however, an uncomfortable truth that I think a lot of people are skirting around: in order for piracy to be beneficial, it must be *wrong.* As soon as it's O.K. to pirate, paying customers feel ripped-off, and sales dry up, because people no longer feel the moral need to compensate the creators of a game for their time.

    That said, I still don't like the "stealing" moniker, not so much because it obscures the nature of the problem, but because it obscures the nature of the solution. As a creator, you recognize that you don't need payment for every copy of your game ever made. That would be ridiculous! It costs little more to copy the executable into RAM than it does to copy it from a server to a hard drive. What payment provides is a means to recoup the cost of the time is takes to develop a game. Piracy can help or hurt your ability to do just that because there is no direct correlation to the purchase price of the game and the value of the time put into it. That correlation is what is missing from the economics of game development in many cases, and why success is sporadic.

    All of this is what makes Christopher's comment all the more appropriate. It's the solution to the problem: treat people as patrons and fans, not customers and pirates.

  75. Oops, I made a mistake, and I don't see an edit link.

    "It costs little more to copy the executable into RAM than it does to copy it from a server to a hard drive."

    should be:

    "It costs little more to copy the game from a server to a hard drive than it does to copy the executable into RAM."

    I suspect that it is, in fact, easier to copy something to RAM than across the Internet, I just got my words in a tangle. ;)

  76. Let me preface this by saying that I do buy games, and a lot of them. I have 158 games on steam. I'm no pirate. :P

    However, I believe IP to be illegitimate for a few simple reasons. While simple, they take rather a lot of explaining though, due to how entrenched IP has become. People believe IP to be fair and just because they've never lived in a world without it and can't envision it. Why is it okay to steal someone's work!?

    So instead of trying to convince anyone myself, I'd like to point anyone interested to some excellent resources on the subject. A great primer and list of resources is here:

    The best book I've read on the subject is here, in pdf form:

  77. I just want to say that I've spent more money on games thanks to Steam than at any time in my life in a 6 month period.

    Steam is insidious with 40% sales and what not. When games are 2.99, 3.99 or 9.99 then they become very attractive to me.

    I never pirated games except when I was in high school. I didn't pirate during college because I didn't want any viruses. :-) When I did buy games, I would buy them 2-3 years after the release so that I would get them cheaper.

    You need a price point and distribution system that would allow for "impulse purchases". People who are between 21-45 are ripe for that. You might as well write off anybody in college or high school. They don't have the means to pay. They are a fickle demographic anyways. So I think you're correct.

    It's unfortunate we spend so much money on piracy prevention. That cost is passed down to the developer.

    I've never played any of your games (or pirated them) I hope you succeed though in this market!


  78. Sri may have a point. If your games were in a deal on Steam I'd probably even buy those that I already own again (even those that don't work very well on my modern hardware ;-)). I've done it with other games before because it's convenient for me to have them in one place. And nowadays, Steam even supports Macs.

  79. Jeff,

    I wanted to comment on an experience I had with Avernum 5. As an adult, I rarely have time to play games and recently I downloaded the demo for Avernum 5.

    I then played for about 18 hours straight (I should have used an easier setting)- and I mean without moving at all- and that ended with me tired beyond measure and really wanting to continue beyond the demo. It was late at night and I was too lazy to get up and go find my wallet.

    It was easier to pirate the game than to get up and try to locate the purse that contained my wallet. However, I did pay for the game the next time I had my wallet near my computer. (It may have been a couple days later.)

    I think if I had stopped at the end of the demo and gone to sleep- I probably wouldn't have continued the game and I probably wouldn't have bought the game.

    I do like how you phrase that we need to purchase the game to continue. I dislike games that have a sudden pop up to purchase the games to continue- it breaks the mood.

    A5's lengthy demos is a great way to get people addicted to the game and for the multiple routes Anama/Darkside Loyalists/Neutral... etc the price is well worth the game.

    Games without demos are games that I don't buy. I was tempted to get Sims 3, but had no idea if it would be worth the cost.

  80. Pirated games is the single largest contributing factor in the development of computers. Without it, "home computers" wouldn't have spread so quickly. Without that spread, development would have been slower and narrower. It would be nice if more software developers would realize that without the piracy that sold all those computers, they would not exist at all. Now all you hear is "Piracy is putting us out of business."

    Looking outside of games, it gets even stickier. Tools like photoshop and 3D software are at a price point were it is obvious that without piracy there would be a very small group learning to master them. Some use student licences, sure. But most tool developers rely on piracy to educate users. This is probably a strategy on their part, or they're naive to the point of criminality. The pirate kids learns the skills, gets hired and eventually the employer buys a license. It's a symbiotic relationship and a model the developers are supporting. That must be the conclusion when looking at the evidence.

    Piracy have an undeniable relationship to price points and payment models.

    But it's wrong. Most of the time. :)

  81. This comment has been removed by the author.

  82. I think you are wrong that the percentage of people who pirate games is high. You use the justification that up to 90% of game installations are pirate ones, but that isn't enough proof.

    For example take two games Pong and Pacman.

    User A buys Pong
    User B buys Pacman
    User C pirates both.

    33% of users are pirates, 50% of game installations are pirate.

    Taken to a larger extreme it could be that the average customer buys 10 games per year and the average pirate copies 100 games per year. This would cause a bigger gulf in the percentage of users who pirate and the percentage of pirated game installations....

    [deleted previous comment and added this one due to typo and lack of edit facility]

  83. I used to buy games that I knew were worth their money. That means that I've at times bought games that cost me three months to save up for. They were games without actual copy protection - they even included a command-line parameter to say where you put the CD, so you could play them without CD easily. There wasn't even a CD key. I played lots of pirated games; if only because I didn't get enough pocket money to buy them.

    Nowadays my free time is less than my amount of money for games. That means that I get to choose what games to spend it on. The list is surprising though; the last 3 games I bought include 0 AAA titles. I purposefully avoid any game that tries to DRM its way out of my money, even if I really would have liked it. Examples are C&C3/4 that I didn't buy for this reason, Ghostbusters that I didn't buy for this reason, Spore for the same reason. I'd have spent the 50 euros on them ($65) easily if they'd been usable.

    If just for the DRM point of view, I'm spending my money on Indie games or Indie-like games. The last three games I bought were Portal, Audiosurf and World of Goo. The next one is most likely going to be Darwinia. The main downside is that they're Steam-only which is a form of DRM that I dislike. Other than that, they have refreshing gameplay, are better-made than the commercial counterparts and hold so much replay value that their cash price is well within regular range.

    The only games I really pirate nowadays are those that I couldn't play otherwise. 15 years ago it was too expensive - nowadays it's too DRMed.

  84. Your morality test is flawed, as according to it, things that do not affect other people directly could be considered immoral due to it. For example, it is ok for our species that some people are homosexual, but if everyone was homosexual, our species would cease to exist. Does that mean homosexuality is immoral? According to your test it would mean exactly this, which shows it to be severely flawed.

  85. I live in the Central-Eastern Europe, so I am not either dirt poor like people in the third world nor wealthy as someone from the western society, so the price of a game is not absolutely high, not chump change for me.

    Following one of your previous posts I tried one demo from the Genforge series and I can say I liked it enough to play trough the end of the demo and then feel like I wanted to see the continuation of the story but at the same time I didn't like it enough to bother searching on a torrent website and definitely not enough to pay its price. I guess I am somewhat out of your target audience (but I *do* like single-player fantasy RPGs)

  86. Very pragmatic view on the topic, I'm with you there. In my opinion of an ideal world, each customer should pay for games (or movies etc. for that matter) _after_ consuming them. Until I found a reasonable way to make that happen, I'm going to do it like this:
    - Sell games at a fair price (~10$)
    - Don't invest into any kind of copy protection measures. It'll be broken anyways.

    This way, virtually everyone can buy the games (I mean, 10 bucks, I wouldn't fool around with file sharing for that kind of money), but if someone is really poor, he can go the extra mile and pirate it quite easily. Not that I support it from the bottom of my heart, I just don't want to invest time and money into fighting windmills.

  87. Man are there a lot of people here who don't understand the difference between a want and a need. There's a lot of "I didn't have money during time X, so I stole games because I needed to play them." You didn't NEED to play a videogame. You have never NEEDED to play a videogame, ever. If you never played one videogame in your whole life you would not now be dead.

    My first system was a 2600 I got second hand during the NES generation. I played the heck out of the couple games I got. Piracy wasn't even an option and I had next to no money to buy anymore games. I did just fine.

    If you can't afford new games, might I reccomend buying a used Xbox or PS2 or Gamecube for nearly nothing and buying games for $5-10. How about playing all the freeware games out there for the computer? How about playing only a few games a year completely through rather than stealing 50 games a year and playing five minutes.

    As for people saying they use stolen games like demos, they have a thing like that that is legal. It's called a demo. Go look, most games have them. Amazing right! They started doing that a long time ago now, and you must have all been too busy on torrent sites to notice.

  88. Good blogpost, and I essentially agree with you. There is one thing I think you overlook however, and that is that piracy is also a great marketing factor.

    You said it yourself. 5000 becomes 50 000 people whom have played your game. This directly translates to profit, since those 50 000 will tell their friends to go play this game, provided they like it. If that leads to, say, 5% increased sales you've suddenly earned 50 000*0.05 extra copies.

    If you're feeling adventurous, try releasing your next game as a CC BY-NC-ND license (Attribution, Non-Commercial, No Derivatives) and have two versions, one free and one pay version. The only difference would be a nag screen in the free game with load screens that said "Please pay if you like this game."

  89. Jeff,

    Don't know your games - will investigate them on the strength of your thoughtful post.

    I wanted to suggest that you look at what Amanda Palmer is doing in the music world to support herself as an Indie artist.

    Her strategy seems to be to make things personal, and with posts like this you seem to be embarking on a similar path.

    In other words, it's easy to steal from a faceless corporation, but rather harder from a person who has been chatting with you about how hard the coding was, and the funny stuff their kids say and where they plan to go on holiday.

    If you ported AFP's model to games, you might give the odd small game away gratis, take community suggestions for how sequels evolve or what genres you address next, maybe auction of a high value game package with unique customisation... be less attached to the fee per game model, and look for innovative and one-off ways to make the same amount of money in many cases by larger donations from real fans who have a long term relationship with your output.

    Just a thought

  90. "Someone who is facing long-term unemployment and bankruptcy probably should not pay for my game."

    damn right.

    anyone who is too poor to buy the game (in the first world), shouldn't be gaming. if you can't afford it, it's a luxury.

    the first things to go in times of poverty are luxuries.

  91. Great post. I'm behind it a 100%. It actually sounds like it came from someone with sense, in contrast with so many other posts of the same kind (from both the pirating and the selling sides).

    I almost want to buy your games for that alone, heh.

  92. I'm someone who used to pirate a lot as a broke-ass student. And, admittedly, I could have spent less money on beer or computer hardware and instead used it to pay for some of the games I downloaded. I usually did make a point of buying actual copies of various games as gifts though, probably once or twice a year usually.

    But now I've got a job and a decent bit of disposable income, so I buy the games I play. (conversely I have less time to play games though...) $60 is an awful lot to pay for a game IMO, but $30 is quite reasonable and I often jump on really great deals like the Humble Indie Bundle or Steam's weekly offerings. And I've been particularly making a point of buying some of the games that I pirated and played a lot. Perhaps, in the long run, I'll spend more money on software than if I never pirated anything and found another hobby instead (the first hit is always free...)

  93. I've been a PC gamer for over 15 years now, and in that time I've amassed a collection of over 140 titles - from EA, Blizzard, and several indie developers as well. I've never once pirated a game that's still available in retail or online (I admit I downloaded Oregon Trail a couple weeks ago).

    My personal take has always been that I want to support the industry that entertains me.

    Recently, money has been extremely tight and my solution has been to wait for sales on Steam. I might pick up two $20 titles for $4.99 each on a Saturday and they keep me happy for some time. I replay many titles over and over depending on my mood. "Hmm ... Giant robots tonight. Zombies tomorrow. Strategy on Sunday..."

    Before money got tight, I did buy Eschalon Book 1. After money was tight, I got World of Goo for $2.00 during their "Pay whatever you like" sale - I got it for my wife, she played it twice and never went back. Geneforge and Avernum have been on my radar for a while, but barring a sale (that I notice happening) that drops the price from $25, it'll be a while before I get them.

    On the flip side, I have intentions of one day becoming an indie developer and hearing that it only takes 5,000 sales per year to feed your family is encouraging.

  94. Thanks for bringing up the third-world perspective. A few things to add to your view, which is pretty much accurate.

    # Games aren't just expensive, they're (in some cases, for AAA titles) 1/4 or 1/6 of the average base monthly salary, because of the currency differences. Which, in most cases, is just insanely expensive.

    # Getting PC games is definitely hard. Because of the prices (and the piracy too), you can't buy a hard copy of a PC game... no one brings them in. It *should* be a downloadable version. But not everything is legally downloadable, not everything is on Steam, and not everything is allowed for all countries in download services (and not everyone wants to play WoW exclusively).

    # If you actually want a hard copy of a PC game, the shipping costs will be ... the cost of another game.

    # The new "play only if you're connected to internet" DRM schema is even worse - third world doesn't have great internet connections. So, you're pretty much screwed here. Waiting for an initially long download time is acceptable, but the lag while playing is not.

    All of that, added to the usual headaches of usual DRM, brings you the classic "screw you all, I'll pirate it" scenario.

    So... What are your choices if you still want to reward the developer? Well, you have to circumvent some laws (and get a pretty big wallet, depending on the games you like):

    # If there's a legally downloadable version, just pay for it. Specially if they don't add DRM. I did that with Machinarium. Felt really great. The download time is still long, the game is still expensive, but there's no problems when actually *playing* the game, and it felt good to reward such small development team.

    # Otherwise, pirate the game. Yes, just pirate the game. BUT, in example, I did that with Psychonauts when they weren't available on Steam. I really liked the game, so I ordered a copy, sent it to an U.S. address and paid for the entire thing. It was the only way to reward the development team, and really, I didn't have another choice. But I already played the game, I didn't need to do that, is the only way I could find.

    From my third-world perspective, rewarding the developers is *way too much work* compared with just pirating the game. That makes the problem even worse.

    And, who knows, maybe someone received a free copy of Psychonauts and enjoyed it!

  95. Oh, and I forgot to add:

    # In third world countries, getting an internationally-enabled credit card is actually really hard. And when you get it, the limits tend to be ridiculous for international orders. Before I get mine, I was actually completely unable to pay for an international game. Yes, we still manage most things in cash.

  96. I'm usually a pretty big proponent of "the ends does not justify the means." Now if you live in some other country where you just cannot get a game/movie/etc and you pirate it, then I'm certainly not going to condemn you. But if you live in a country where the games and the means to get them are pretty available then I can't justify pirating the game. If you don't have the money, then save it up. If you can't save it up, don't play the game. Your life will not suffer because you didn't play it. If you're buying junk food and coffee all of the time then you have no excuse. You're just being selfish.
    Being honorable and paying your own way has a deep satisfaction to it. Everyone should give it a real try and see how it feels.

  97. Here's the biggest problem with fighting piracy... you alienated ME, and other customers like me. If I can't try out a game on my machine to make sure it runs correctly, I will not waste my money on it.

    I also will not deal with DRM. Requiring me to have a CD in my drive at all times is ridiculous (wastes the battery on my laptop, and creates wear and tear over time), I should not have to be online to play a local game, and if I can't back up my own property (explicitly allowed by the 1992 Home Audio Recording Act), why should I invest in it?

    This is not a slam at the author, for I do not know his DRM tactics. This is directed at the industry in general. I now will ONLY purchase games without DRM that also provide a free demo. Maybe the gaming industry could learn a thing or two from that...

  98. @Jim:
    May I ask you something? When you say you won't "waste money" on a game if you can't try it (i.e. there is no demo), and you won't "waste money" if it has bad DRM, do you mean you simply won't play the game or that you will steal it?

    Not playing a game because you disagree with the DRM or whatever is perfectly acceptable. You're voting with your wallet. The money you have earned stays with you and not the developer. The game the developer and their employees made stays with them.

    Stealing a game because you don't agree with the DRM or whatever is unacceptable. You are voting with someone else's wallet. The money you have earned stays with you. The game people made to create their money does not stay with them. You are, thus, voting with the wallet of the employees of that company, who are just people like you.

  99. I also pirated a crapload of Commodore 64 games in the 1980s. Then I became a professional software developer, and the realization of my own hypocrisy hit me smack in the face. Of course, it took many more years of "sort of tolerating" things like sharing licenses in a way that didn't respect the original author's intentions, and other things, before one day, I just said to myself: "This world will become what ever most people want it to become."

    In the case of games, if we want people to write games, we should pay them for the game.
    I support Steam even though it has DRM on it, because it's a way for everybody to make some money, and I get games for very little money, more than I have time to play, really.

    In the case of Indies, I buy direct when something looks really fun. I see it as a way of bringing something to fruition; You pay the guy and he doesn't have to go back to writing database apps for FUDCo.

    So, no, I don't think the kid in the third world should pirate your game. I see that as condescension to him. Instead he should go write his own game, or download an open source one and contribute to it.

    If playing games is fun, can't being a creator and contributor to the global games scene be fun, whether you have money or not? The ethical decision to make, the one you should encourage everybody to make, is not to pirate your game because this guy is a poor guy in a poor country, but to do what he can, where he is, without causing himself the harm that he will cause if he teaches himself to disrespect other people, merely because they live in a rich country.

    How do we fix things that are wrong in the world that way? Your games are just games. But ethics and morality are the cement and brick that our civilization is built with. Let's not turn it all to sand, for the sake of a bit of convenience.


  100. > About the Humble Indie Bundle, I am not sure
    > what to say. I've thought about it a lot,
    > and, while it was a big one-time success
    > for a lot of already well-known and
    > successful titles, I'm not sure how viable
    > a business model it is for all genres and
    > all lengths of time after release.

    Well... I didn't buy the Humble Bundle because it was a bundle of "successful games"; in fact, the only game I had heard of was The World of Goo, and I had played the free demo weeks before.

    I would never download a pirated game because I don't trust code from unknown sources; and I rarely buy games.

    However, when I saw the game available for any price I wanted to pay, I decided to give a try.

    > Also, I believe it was only a huge success
    > because of the ENORMOUS attention is
    > received. The more people who take the
    > pay-what-you-want tack, the less attention
    > it will get. And then you're stuck with
    > getting a buck a game from a modest about
    > of people. And are thus screwed.

    Although I *could* pay just $0.01, I felt that it would be tremendously unfair. And, since I had already decided to pay for it, I opted to pay the average contributed value. (The Humble Bundle web site displayed the average contributions, and I just followed the average -- I think that's called "anchoring".)

    The important thing is that I had already decided to buy -- and that's usually the most difficult part.

    > I am really conflicted on this, so I'm
    > shutting up about it until I can see more
    > evidence from the field.

    Why don't you try?

  101. Very well written article and interesting perspective. Congrats on the Slashdot mention!

  102. Couple thoughts I have always had:
    1) DOS/Windows became so popular because it was easy to pirate.
    2) Another option these larger firms might want to consider is making older games free or very inexpensive. It might not be the latest or greatest, but some people still enjoy them and it will make the customer crave the newer games that much more.

  103. I kind of quit playing.

    Piracy, infringement, whatever we are going to label it sucks. I remember pirating as a little kid. I was poor, and grew up in a small town and loved computing and gaming.

    We cracked a bunch of them. Honestly, that was more fun than playing them was.

    The little colored pixels on the TV were compelling then. Many wanted to play, some of us wanted to do. Piracy has something to do with that as well. Getting under the hood, running different ones to see what does what, or how a good game is really different from a crap one, and all sorts of other meta-things about games are really difficult to entertain, unless one can see a variety of games?

    Old games are interesting too. I, like many others, have played a bunch of things from MAME and other emulators.

    There is history there, and there is entertainment there too.

    Emulators are empowering new games for older systems. Homebrew games mostly. I really like those, and buy them, despite a "new release" being for a machine that could be 30 years old. The authors share how they do it, why they do it.

    That's a lot of fun. Players can be involved too, often testing, or just encouraging the developer to get it done, or by providing some creative fodder for everyone to mull over.

    I like that scene because I know when I buy the game, somebody is really happy and they got comped for it. Indie games are this way too, and I think I would tell your story more to encourage more people paying more of the time.

    Console games are sort of crappy right now. They cost a lot, and they are sometimes broken, or just a tease, or just short. I used to really enjoy PC games. Right now I don't, because the whole scene is a mess, and I've gone retro, gaming on older computers, consoles and writing and playing new ones on micro controllers. That's all fun on a player level, and on a technical one, and there are few hassles. That all makes me happy, just like sharing a goofy little game with others did as a kid.

    I'm glad you were able to continue doing that for a living. Many of us amateur people know just enough of that to get where you are coming from and why. Maybe more people should be creating things, instead of trying to cop their buzz off of other creations. More people would understand what it all means that way.

    You are barking up the right tree with this. I'm sure of it. Please continue.

    Your blog is interesting, and I would end this with a final comment:

    It's harder to do the wrong things when you know somebody. Maybe there is something in there to help resolve piracy to a more equitable state of affairs.

  104. Many people who pirate software, buy the good games. Make a good game and it'll sell. I'm sure Starcraft 2 isn't going to have any problems selling copies because it's worth the money. There's nothing more frustrating than shelling out $20-50 for a game and finding out it's beta quality crap.

  105. When I was in college, I never buy games, no money. After I start to work, I bought a lot of games. But over the years I bought less and less, because I have no time to play. I just bought Starcraft II, and it will take a long time for me to finish the missions.

    So I agree with you. Game Developer's worst nightmare is not college students who steal your games. The worst enemy to Game developers is the day to day crap that take all the time from grown ups.

  106. Jeff,

    Your games rock. I own Avernum 1-3 as a Trilogy CD and am working my way through Avernum 4; I own Geneforge 1 and 2 and intend on finishing those after Avernum. All legit purchases; I should go ahead and purchase 5 and 6, but if I buy them ahead of time they won't be "new" anymore and my interest will wane. (I have over 3000 game CDs and 1000 application CDs in my collection; I also have some 600 3.5" floppies that I converted to IMZ images for easier access in virtual machines.)

    Compared to the gentleman above with only $30.00 a month in spending cash, I have an allowance of $600.00.

    I am, however, a pirate. What do I pirate, and why?

    I am an actual protester of DRM. I still play the Gold Box series from SSI - based on your games, I think you'd rather enjoy them. I still play Dungeon Hack and Eye of the Beholder, my original copy of Command and Conquer, the Lost Vikings, Wing Commander, and the Ultima series -- all legitimately purchased and owned by me. I get a hair up my ass and I set up the VM or drag out an old Pentium 200 MMX machine and I play.

    None of those games - if produced in today's DRM environment - would be playable by me. Reliving my childhood and those fantastic games wouldn't be possible. I'm a legitimate owner of those games -- but I'd be locked out.

    Now consider my copy of Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zephyr. A good game, I enjoyed it -- but when I recently went to reinstall and play it I was told I was 'out of activations' and had to contact 'customer service'. Customer service is anything but. I don't believe I should have to explain to anyone that I format my computer four to six times a year so I can play with new variations of Linux, or create a development environment that requires Windows Server 2003 or 2008 (TFS 2010, for instance). That's not the game developer's business.

    Instead of contacting customer service I located a copy of the game on one of the darkest corners of IRC and downloaded it. Took me 1.5 hours - and a lot less frustration than contacting customer service and dealing with some clueless moron.

    Then you have the scratched disk scenario. I have two children who have no concept as to how to put a CD/DVD back. My copy of Dungeon Keeper is heavily scratched -- yet Bullfrog is out of business, and the publisher (EA) wants nothing to do with it. How do I play this game now without pirating it?

    Some games are so heavily DRM laden I won't purchase them. BioShock 2, Spore come to mind off the bat. Both are games I'd love to play -- but if I do play them, it will be pirated versions. I won't support the belief by 2K or EA that DRM is "consumer friendly" and "to our benefit." I won't give you any shit about it -- I don't like DRM because it hurts my ability to do what I want with property that I bought. (Don't get me started on licenses; those irritate the hell out of me. "You have these rights, but we're going to license them away from you." Yea, fuck off.)

    Finally the infamous registration code. I have a Google spreadsheet dedicated to holding these codes; I'm quite happy that Google Docs finally came about and I transferred all 1781 codes that I had from a proprietary piece of software to Google Docs. But there are codes that I don't know what they go to; there are codes that I didn't read properly (O or 0? I or l?). There are codes that I double checked but just don't work. How do I get access to these games when I want them?

    I download a keygen, or pirate it.


  107. You have several advantages over those companies; advantages that any indie developer has, in my eyes -- you're a company who's provided me with hours on hours of past entertainment. Not only your games, but your Irony Central blog. You've never gone out of your way to screw your customers. You've never put intrusive DRM on your products; one solution, that's it. I know that the money I give you helps YOU and not some pompous windbag of an executive who can only think of the next sequel to John Madden... and his millions in bonuses.

    When EA and Activision stop screwing their customers, when they produce a completed product, when they treat me as an equal in the transaction -- that is when I will give them the same courtesies I provide to developers like you.

  108. I never pirate Mac games. Sometimes if a developer is planning to have a Mac version but releases the PC version first, I'll pirate it until the Mac version comes out. Otherwise I'd end up paying for it twice. Plus, Mac games are too few, so I ALWAYs want to support those that choose to release for my preferred platform.

  109. Well said. I pay for all my games and I own hundreds. I've felt ripped off a few times after buying, but I do better research before buying now. I support something that I care about which are PC games. In fact, I pay for shareware and donation-ware and all the software that I use. Does that make me a sucker or too goody-to-shoes? I'm just hoping it keeps the games and shareware flowing because I enjoy and use them.

    I just wish the harsh DRM would go away. When I can't get something to run because of DRM after I've paid for the thing that makes me very mad and I believe that is understandable too. I've even dropped the idea of ever purchasing from certain developers/publishers because of their DRM. I've even considered hacking their stuff when it is that unusable because of DRM and I've paid for it. I like being legit and paying for things. I just wish some companies were as honorable at delivering what I've fully paid to use.

  110. I buy your games but I don't buy your argument. Piracy (game piracy) is never justified. There are enough cheap/free games that anyone who can afford access to a computer and the internet can enjoy. And although I don't agree with your argument, I do agree with your conclusion. Pirates should buy at least 1 game per year.

  111. Jeff,

    You've come to so readily accept that this recent idea of intellectual property is some kind of basic human right - Which is understandable, given what you do, but I wonder if you've taken time to think WHY piracy is wrong?

    Your first argument is "If everyone pirated, video games wouldn't exist." This is a very good argument as to why piracy should be illegal, but not why it is wrong. Is driving on the wrong side of the road some kind of unpardonable sin? No, that's idiotic. But these rules, even if they have no moral basis, need to be followed to make the system work.

    Your second seems to be "Piracy deprives the author of income". Even if you believe strongly in intellectual property protection, this assumes that the pirate -would have actually bought the game-. A pirate who would never have bought your game has cost you nothing. Furthermore, I wonder what your stance is on used games. While being more legal, the effect is the same - a person who would have paid you for your game has paid you nothing.

    Anyways, I would support IP laws as being necessary to the games I love, but to try and draw a direct parallel between legality and morality is a simple-minded (if common) mistake.

    Regarding your closing comments, you should realize that it's not high seas battle with lawyers on one side and pirates on the other. The truth is, the vast majority of people who pirate games also buy games, often while they pirate. In my experience, most big pirates (excluding kids, etc) tend to be deeply involved in video games and are happy to pay for the games they really love. If you've ever seen a bootleg, you'd know most major pirate releases end with the plea, "If you enjoyed this game, please support the developer and buy it!"

    Finally, I'd like to add a little on the motivation of piracy. Not everybody pirates because they want to avoid paying for a game. Many do it for the challenge/prestige of releasing a difficult game, annoying or invasive DRM (Spore, AC2), anger with the developer (I wouldn't want my money funneled to certain causes), a lacking or non-existant demo (it's hard to drop $60 on a game just cause you saw the trailer), etc.

    Once again, I'm not advocating abolishing piracy laws. But while you're on your high horse, remember than both your "virtuous" customers and those unethical pirates are your buying public. Don't insult them.

    Thanks for listening.

  112. Sorry for my english, I'm from Barcelona and... well.

    About the topic:

    What do you think about the fact that most of games are windows-only? Have you considered the cost of Windows Vista, Windows 7 ?

    There are no enough games that use Linux or a free enviroment, without requiring Wine of course.

    Also, remember most of PC games requires a powerful graphic card and processor.

    So the cost of the game, has other "fees" you must consider.

    Also, game programmers don't pay for using "technology" (micro-chip, programming languages, algorithms,etc) created by someone, as you see copyright only applies some times.

    More about the topic: do you consider it's ok to pay the same for Fallout 3 than pay the same for a POOR quality game of Nintendo DS or pc game?

    Do you think it's ok to pay 50 USD for a game such as Fallout 3 or any other game two years later of it's release? in PC you can buy them cheaper on the Internet via or others. In consoles like PS3 this is more difficult.

    50 USD for a computer game is expensive, indeed. But there are PC games like Unreal tournament, Fallout 3, NeverWinter Nights, Starcraft 2 and others... they maybe probably require a big investment, but there are many others that doesn't, although they cost 50 USD.

    Also, games that doesn't require logistics (you can download them from Internet directly and pay using paypal or credit card) are more expensive that they should, same like ebooks.

    Copyright industry is also making money, more money than developers without doing anything than promote their rules.

    I bought some games like Warhammer 40000 complete edition in it was "cheap", less than 15 pound iir. I played the first time to Warhammer 40000 Dawn of War some years ago, but it was a copy.

    Probably the cost of the game was 50 USD, and now it's cheap and probably they still make money with the game... or not.

    Now I have Warhammer 40000 II unopened, from, similar price. The first edition worth the money, the second one probably requires more investment since graphics are better but I think it's worse than the first edition.

    I also bought a lot of games for Wii (via eBay), the average cost is 20 euro. But the first game I bought on the shop "Fnac" was 49 euro iir for Resident Evil 4 same game for PS 2 it's probably cheaper but the quality is the same.

    I think that games are very expensive, and that developers are not rewarded for their work.

    There are great games you can buy for 20 or 50 USD, that require more investment than others for the same price from the same studios, maybe some games should be cheaper then.

    I believe people will buy more games if they-re cheaper.

    If one year later a game costs the half, and the company still gets money for that game, why not reduce the cost when they release it or why not sell it on-line reducing costs ?

    Finally, remember it's only a game, there are a lot of free games, abandonware, etc. I consider expensive to pay 50 USD, 49 euro... for a game, when developers surely gain the same amount for their work. Hundred or thousand people buy games like Starcraft II, they can get a lot of money selling it a little bit cheaper.

    I bought Ishar II in a gaming magazine some years ago, the cost was 5 euro or something similar. And it is a GREAT game. I did the same for Fallout, now Fallout 3 is better and I recommend it.

    I agree that DRM is a something not needed.

    It is also true that many games doesn't have any demo.

  113. Jeff,

    I tried the first game in the Geneforge series a while back. I never got around to playing anywhere near the end of the demo, but nevertheless I put it on my list of games I should buy when I get around to it.

    However, there is one thing that has kept me from doing so. For some reason it's cheaper to buy all of them on disc than it would be to buy them collected as digital versions. The disc version comes to 75 dollars, and just because I don't want a disc, I'm expected to pay 131 dollars for the series. This just doesn't sit right with me, and is the main reason I haven't picked up the entire series. So, instead of getting 75 dollars off me, you get nothing. I can almost guarantee I'm not alone in feeling this way. I would get the disc, but a 75 dollar disc would trigger import taxes for me that would make it almost as expensive as just buying the digital versions, and, as I said, I don't really want the disc in the first place.

    So, I guess the what my point boils down to is that you'll have 75 of my dollars if/when you ever decide to sell the Geneforge games in a digital version bundle, but until then I'll wait it out. I've bought more RPGs this year alone to last me several, so I have that luxury.

  114. @Anders: "The disc version comes to 75 dollars, and just because I don't want a disc, I'm expected to pay 131 dollars for the series."

    The full saga comes with the digital versions. We have no problem giving immediate registration keys to someone who buys the whole saga.

    Is the problem that we charge $75 for 5 quality full-length games? Because that's something we don't apologize for. We insist on charging a fair price for our time and effort, and $15 a game is, I think, entirely fair to both of us.

    - Jeff Vogel

  115. @David: All that noise and DRM and IP and "rights" is a smokescreen to distract from the real issue: What does it take to enable creators to continue to make the products people love?

    When someone pirates, they are a free rider, taking advantage of the fact that other people are paying to sustain creators. I don't see how anyone can reasonably argue that this is not a statement of fact. And I, personally, think that this is unethical.

    You can put on the cloak of righteousness and say how unethical DRM is all the live long day. But, if you take the work of creators and give nothing in return, you are part of the problem. I am sorry that saying this offends so many people, but as I said. You get cool free stuff, or you get to not be a free rider. Not both.

    - Jeff Vogel

  116. @Jeff: My problem was that I assumed I would have to pay more for not wanting the disc. As I understand I might have been mistaken. If you are willing to sell me the digital licenses bundled for the same price of the disc version, we most certainly have a deal.

    I felt I made my what I was trying to say clear, and I apologize if I didn't manage. The only trouble I ever had with the price was that as I understood it there was a discount for buying the disc version, that I could not get because I didn't want the disc. It's not that I would mind having it, it's just that it would trigger import taxes for me that wouldn't make it worth having.

    Again, I do apologize if you felt I was devaluing your games, and somehow insinuated that they were not worth 15 dollars a piece. That was in no way my intention. My grief was merely that I, in error from what you stated, believed that I would have to pay 25 dollars per game because I did not care to have the actual disc.

  117. @Anders: No problem. The fault is ours. I should somehow make clearer on our web site that the deal includes online copies too. Customers of the bundles usually don't ask for them, but some really want them.

    - Jeff Vogel

  118. @Jeff: Well, I'm a man of my word, so my order is placed. I greatly appreciate that take the time to communicate with your customers this way.

  119. This comment has been removed by the author.

  120. I see World of Goo can be played on mac through steam, and just to show support I just bought a copy. Keep up the good work and I hope all works out for the best :)

  121. @Jeff: In my experience, the vast majority of pirates do buy games. Say you have two consumers - One purchases $200 worth of video games in a year and plays only those. The other purchases $200 worth of video games and pirates many more that he likely would not have bought otherwise (per your -definitely- link). Both are supporting the games they love, and enabling creators to continue making them. If you meant free riding off of a particular author, that may be the case, but it's a creator they would not have supported otherwise.

    I suppose my greatest concern is this: Piracy should be illegal, as it is a neccessary -legal- protection to artists' income. Furthermore, if piracy deprives the author of income (i.e. you pirate a game you would have otherwise bought), I would agree it is unethical. But if no harm is done (in this case, you would NOT have bought the game, no income is denied to authors) how can it be unethical?

    When we start declaring actions immoral even in absence of harm, we enter them realm of "It's immoral to not believe in my god! It's immoral for people of two races to intermarry!" etc. Granted, these two examples are a bit extreme compared to denouncing someone for piracy, but the principle is same. How can something that harms nobody be wrong?

  122. I think you have nailed it here. I have been known to pirate games. I've downloaded tons of them. However, when I have the money available and I feel a particular game is worth playing, I am glad to pay for it. On the other hand I have a tendency to buy games that I barely end up playing. If I were to balance my play time with 'pirated' vs. 'paid for' games, it is obvious I pay a lot more than I really need to. I am in that position. I guess I do it to compensate for my own guilt. Yeah. That's it. Better for the developers I guess. Whatever keeps the good games coming. I'll pay for that.

  123. @David: Outlawing piracy is not, in fact, a "necessary legal protection for artists' income".

    It's only necessary for artists who insist on using one particular business model: the one where you invest a lot of time/effort/money up front, on speculation, and then hope to make it back by selling copies for thousands of times more than those copies cost to make.

    But there's another business model, used in nearly every other industry: the one where you find a customer (or a mass group of customers) that wants what you have to offer, and you come to an agreement in which he (they) pay you an amount for your work that you consider fair. You're not investing time in something that you hope to sell at a profit; you're selling your labor directly. Once the work is completed and you've been paid, you renounce all claim to the work you sold, and you move on to the next project.

    That business model doesn't need any special protection, only basic contract law. Pirates pose absolutely no threat to it. And it's a business model that has been deployed successfully for centuries, if not millennia, in nearly every field of human endeavor.

  124. @ Taradino C

    What in the world are you talking about? You have described the same system twice and are saying you described two different systems. If a developer makes a game and then tries to sell it at the price they believe is fair, I fail to see how that is different than "every other industry." I work for a College, and we hire faculty and staff and then tell students what we think is a fair price for tuition and fees. The fishermen here buy their boats and liceences and supplies every year and fight for a particular price for their catch every year. The mines here invest hundreds of millions up front in preping and staffing a mine and then try to make the money back selling at the best prices they can get. The local Wal-Mart stocks the sheleves, pays advertising, hires people etc. up front and hopes to make it back selling at the prices they set.

    The only industry I can think of that uses a different model is contract work (building a house for example), and I'm sure Jeff and others would be more than willing to move to a model where we pay them tens of thousands of dollars in advance for them to make a game later on. They could live off the advance like an authour and not have that whole "will this game sell" thing to worry about. Of course, the game will still cost about the same, but the developers will have a lot more predictable source of income.

  125. This was a bit silly to start off with. if you do think the kid emailing you was genuine, you had another more obvious choice. Look up his exchange rate, work out a "fair price" and ask him to paypal you that amount, and send him a key. You're a human being, you either believe him or you don't. What you did was dumb. Encouraging him to "pirate" is dumb, maybe he did not want to pirate it cos he is a good guy or maybe he is scared of bit torrent and malware, or as he is in a network cafe, maybe he cant install bit torrent.

    So you basically believed a hard luck story but then decided to tell him to go and screw himself, or behave illegally.

    And I am someone who thinks piracy is OK, because of many other reasons (sometimes leads to future sales that may not have occurred, may not have ever paid for the thing anyway, so its just like advertising etc etc). But you were just dumb. You threw away money because you were too pig headed and greedy to give him the product legally at a "fair price" (again, assuming you believed him), which is part of the problem. Make it hard for someone to buy something "fairly" and you are just creating and feeding the problem.

    LET PEOPLE PAY WHO WANT TO PAY by making it fair for them to do so, either by price or availability or whatever.

    You neednt worry about anything else, you wasted far too much time thinking about it.

  126. Back in the mid 80s, I had friends who were pirating stuff on the Commodore 64. I will admit I joined in and amassed 20 or so discs filled with games. Some of the games were really good. Some of them were terrible. Many of them I had never heard of.

    25 years later, I can't imagine doing that sort of thing. If I can't buy it off Steam, Amazon, or (on rare occasion) at my local Gamestop, I probably couldn't get motivated enough to steal it.

    I have never played any Spiderweb games but I see you both offer demos and allow electronic ordering. That is exactly right and how everyone should be doing it.

  127. @Player 2

    No, I think you've misunderstood me.

    A stocker at Wal-Mart agrees to do X amount of stocking in exchange for being paid $Y. That's the model I'm talking about.

    The copyright-based model is more like stocking the shelves for free, then charging the store a small amount every time someone buys a product from those shelves, and hoping to make enough that stocking the shelves turns out to be worthwhile.

    In the first model, the stocker knows how much money he's going to make. He performs one task and gets paid once; either Wal-Mart is willing to pay a fair price for that or they aren't, and if they aren't, he won't take the job.

    In the second model, the stocker has no idea whether he'll earn a fair amount. He's gambling with his time. Maybe the products on his shelves will be extra popular this week and he'll get rich, or maybe they'll be unpopular and he'll go hungry.

    With the fishermen, the mine, and Wal-Mart's sale of products, you seem to be making an analogy between software and physical goods, but that doesn't really hold up. Physical goods cannot be copied for free, undetectably and unpreventably, by customers in their bedrooms. Mining two tons of ore costs about twice as much as mining one ton, and once it's mined, you can keep an eye on it or put it behind a locked gate to retain control over it. Digital data doesn't work that way, and all the laws in the world won't make it work that way, so I contend it's best to think of software development not as a type of manufacturing but as a service.

    But in your last paragraph you seem to recognize what I'm talking about: "a model where we pay them tens of thousands of dollars in advance for them to make a game later on". That's what I'm proposing! (Although "advance" and "later on" are negotiable; most contracts are not paid 100% in advance. The important part is that you have a list of people who are legally bound to pay you when you complete the work.)

    Instead of gambling with their time, developers can come to us beforehand and say "I want to make game X and I'm going to need $Y to do that". Then, either we're collectively willing to pay $Y or we aren't. If we are, then they do the work, release the game, and get paid, and we're free to make as many copies as we want. If we aren't, they find a more profitable project to work on. Either way, piracy becomes irrelevant, because there's nothing to copy until the contract has been completed.

    However, you lose track of the idea at the end when you say "Of course, the game will still cost about the same". While the game is in funding, it will cost "whatever you want to pay": what matters is the total amount the developer can raise. If a developer wants $100,000 to complete a project, it doesn't matter whether he gets $50 from two thousand people, or $1 from a hundred thousand people, or $99,999 from one person and one penny from a hundred others. *After* the game is completed, it will cost nothing, because the developer will already have been paid.

  128. I buy games and pirate games. I buy games a reasonable prices all the time. That said, nothing above $30 and preferably around $20. Usually I buy on Steam sales or I buy used. If I really cant wait and the price is too high... Starcraft 2 uh hem... I pirate.

  129. You've totally missed the point. I don't want game developers, actors, musicians, etc. to make a living. I want them to understand that IF they want to make a living, they have to overthrow capitalism and the extortionist regimes that support it. Crying to fascists for protection just makes content creators part of the problem.

    Property tax, sales tax, rigged elections, overwhelmingly unpopular laws, Prohibition, gangsta cops and military - all examples of how our current system is just a bunch of hastily-assembled asterisks and footnotes to the slavery era. Eventually we will evolve to the point where content will be free and content creators will be paid based on merit, rather than popularity. Refusing to help and dragging your feet against progress frankly sets you up to deserve piracy and abuse. There is no future in trying to force everyone at gunpoint to suffer the slings and arrows of capitalism. When deciding who is the 'problem' and who is the 'solution' - do yourself a favor, and side with humanity and against tyranny. Your ability to support yourself depends on it. Support your local revolutionaries.

  130. If more people were as rational as you, this world would be a much better place. I don't know your games, but soon I will.

  131. @Taradino
    No, Wal-Mart hires the employee based on the expectation of selling something for a price they set. You shelf stocking in advace is EXACTLY the way it happens, it's just that you don't see it until you reach the level of the corporation. But Wal-Mart certainly does invest their money in shelf stocking in hopes they will sell the things on the shelf.

    You remind me of the Hippies on that South Park episode who claim they'll build a better society where there's people who's job it is to teach and people who's job it is to protect people. It is pointed out to them that we have that now.

    As for other industries having the odd addition to the model you suggest, I'd like to know what industries they are. Once a carpenter makes you a house, you get exactly one copy of the house. You can't send infinite copies of the house forever over the internet. Nor does someone else then get the house for free. You have one, count them one, copy of that one house and no one else gets it unless you give up your rights to it.

    What industry creates something of value for money and then gives away infinite copies of it forever for free?

  132. @Player 2

    Carpentry is a great example, actually.

    You hire a carpenter to build a house for a price you both agree on. Once the work is done and he's been paid, he moves on to another project, and you now have the right to do whatever you want with that house.

    You can resell the house. You can rent it out. You can even let a friend come in, inspect every inch of your house, and build an identical copy for himself! He'll only have to pay for the building materials, just like a pirate pays for bandwidth and blank media.

    The carpenter doesn't care what you do with the house after he leaves. He's been paid a fair price for the work he did. If he wants to get paid again, he can build another house.

    You ask, "What industry creates something of value for money and then gives away infinite copies of it forever for free?"

    That's not a very accurate description of what I'm talking about. The developer isn't the one making those "infinite copies". All he has to do is agree on a fixed price for a fixed amount of work, do the work, deliver a single copy to the people who paid for it, and then move on and let them do what they want with it.

  133. @Taradino

    Yes, the carpenter doesn't care what you did with that one house, but the house isn't his IP, is it now. His IP is his company name, logo, uniforms, logoed trucks, etc. If you go around under his logo building houses just because he built your house, he will sue you into the ground.

    As for his not caring what you do with the one house, of course he doesn't, because it is just the one house. You can't sell it without moving out. You, thus, don't disturb supply and demand principles in his industry. Allowing unlimited free houses for all would do that, and if you can come up with a way to do that, you won't find any carpenters, anywhere, ever willing to build you the first one.

    I am not contesting your right to treat the game like a house (i.e. sell the one copy you have at any time and then not being able to use it yourself). You are right about one thing, the carpentry example is a perfect illustration. One customer, one house. Two customers, two houses. Not one customer, infinite houses.

    As for "inspecting a house and building another," blueprints cost money. You can go through the trouble of drawing those yourself looking off the real house, yes. Materials cost money. You can buy those yourself. Carpentry work costs money, as does plumbing, electrical, etc. You can indeed do that yourself. But the equivalent with a game then is playing it and then remaking it FROM SCRATCH. If your friend inspects your house then goes to remake it, he doesn't get to take supplies, blueprints, pieces of other walls from your carpenter. He gets to look at the finished product, then produce all the work over from scratch. If you want to play Dragon Age, then remake the entire product yourself, do it. I won't even call you a pirate.

  134. @Player 2

    "Yes, the carpenter doesn't care what you did with that one house, but the house isn't his IP, is it now."

    No, it isn't, and that's the point! He doesn't need any concept of "IP" to get paid for building houses. Software developers don't need any concept of "IP" to get paid for writing software, either. Writing code is a valuable service that people can (and do) get paid for directly, just like swinging a hammer.

    Let me restate that, because this is an important point. As long as there's demand for the act of swinging a hammer, people who swing hammers will be able to get paid to do it. What I'm saying is that this applies to writing code too: as long as there's demand for code to be written, people who write code will be able to get paid to do it.

    You don't need any special laws or rights to make that system work. All you need is someone who wants code written and has money in his pocket, and someone else who knows how to write code and wants to earn some money.

    "As for his not caring what you do with the one house, of course he doesn't, because it is just the one house."

    Likewise, a developer who's been paid to write a game has no reason to care what his customers do with it, or how many copies they make. He's already been paid for writing that game, right? So why should he care what anyone else does with it? It's "just the one game". If he wants to get paid a second time, he'll write a second game.

    "You, thus, don't disturb supply and demand principles in his industry. Allowing unlimited free houses for all would do that [...]"

    The centuries-old model I'm proposing to use for software doesn't disturb supply and demand either. Developers' time is still as limited as ever. If someone wants to play a game they haven't seen before, they're going to have to find a developer to write one, and they're going to have to pay him a price he considers fair.

    It's true that this would eliminate the market for *copies* of games, but that's a market that doesn't have any reason to exist: people can make their own copies at virtually no cost. What they can't do is write new games, and that's why as long as there's demand for new games, developers will be able to make money by writing them.

    "and if you can come up with a way to do that, you won't find any carpenters, anywhere, ever willing to build you the first one."

    Of course I would, I'd just have to pay more.

  135. The flaw in your "$75 for 5 full length games, $15 each" argument is that the first of those games is nearly nine years' old.

    Now there's the argument that, because of the retro style of the game, they're no more dated now than they were then. It's true when it comes to the technical aspect, not so much the way the market is expected to work.

    At least, that's how I see it anyway. I think you'd sell more games if you offered each new game in the series either on it's own for $25 or with all the previous games for $40. But then, I wouldn't be gambling my livelihood on it.

    Still, there's a certain psychology that applies to me, and a lot of gamers, where we want to play things in order, from start to finish. We're not interested in just part of it, so if the price of the bundle is too high for an impulse purchase, we just don't buy.

    Here's something interesting. Again, just me, but hey. I'm intrigued by your games. Honestly, I may never get around to playing them. I have so many games to play and not enough time. Sorry. But if you were to do a time-limited bundle of the Avernum or Geneforge series for $20, I'd buy it. Just so I had the option of playing those games in the future.

  136. Nice article, here's our recent take on video game piracy, please have a read if you have a minute
    Is Video Game Piracy Ever Ok?

  137. Speaking as someone who has pirated in the past, and will probably pirate in the future:

    When I was young, dumb, and poor, I might have bought 10% of the games I snagged from a torrent (or back in those days, BBS's or shady Xoom/Geocities sites, etc.).

    These days, the ratio of pirate-to-purchase probably hangs around 80%.

    Ultimately, three factors have greatly improved that commercial reality for game publishers, for me:

    1. Over the years, my tastes in games has reasonably solidified; I'm not browsing or sampling anymore, and if I am, it's because I'm better informed by excellent games journalism, like Rock Paper Shotgun, etc.

    2. Steam, and other digital distribution. PC Software isn't something I buy physically anymore. It's all digital purchase and download. I feel like Steam does it right. I don't want to go to the store anymore to pick up a physical box and its goods within.

    3. Coverage of indie developers. Ask me ten years ago what an "indie developer" was, and I'd have guessed it had something to do with photography. Nowadays, I'm often following particular indie game developments with more rabid enthusiasm than triple-A games. Dialogue = Meaning = A face to the otherwise faceless guy I'd be ripping off.


    So, what can the industry as a whole do to nail down that last 20%?


    Jesus christ, guys. Release a friggin' demo. For anything, for everything. I don't buy a car without test driving, I don't buy a book without skimming a cover flap for a synopsis. I don't buy things I can't return for refund, if I don't have a damn good idea of the quality of what's inside.

    It's the single best thing any developer, be they indie or triple-A, can do at this point to prevent piracy from me. It's probably been seven or eight years since I last played a game the entire way through and didn't pay for it. So that remaining 20% of sales is more aptly renamed "the games I'd have returned for refund if it were possible".

  138. I pirate some (several) games because I play goddamn everything because I wanna get into game design and you need a shitton of game hours of everything to get the whole pictures, and I can't afford that many games. But I sometimes buy some, like TF2, Sleep is Death or Outcast so I don't feel that bad with myself :p

    GL nice article!

  139. I have to say, quite interesting read.

    Mi name is Nicolás, im from Argetina, my country is not in top shape lately. im 21 years old, and im a student, i work so i can afford some nice things like games and what not.

    but i have to say. its really hard to buy games.

    take me as an example, i have to spend more than 10% of my monthly pay to buy starcraft 2.
    i did it of course, with much joy, cause i love the game, and i played brood wars and diablo II for years and years without paying a dime. so i thought of it as my way to start supporting blizzard. and im sad to report that many people here cannot afford it, even if they really wanted to.

    but i have to say, its no only a matter of money, but also availability. not so long ago, games here were hard to come by, and if you found them, you got stuck with a cheap awful spanish translation.
    then steam, and its magical digital downloads came by to save the day. suddenly i felt no longer left behind, from this little south cone i could keep up with anyone, even though i had to pay 4 times what people elsewhere were paying.

    up to that point in time i pirated everything, ive played hundreds of pirated games and had to miss out on games (or their multplayer part) like tf 2 because i coulndt get it or afford it at the time. it sucked but i guess its kinda working itself out.

    on another piracy note, i will still do it .. since i can maybe buy a game every couple of months, i have to know exactly what im buying, or i get stuck with shitty purchases like bf bc2. hence i will download a pirated game ... play a lot and if i like it, i will try to support the developer.

    like you say, my experience with gamers from my country.. its not that they dont want to pay, they would love to, but the prices are just steep. and sometimes it doesnt even really pay off .. cause you have to factor things like having no servers and having to play with 200ms of ping everywhere .. so, you see, people pirate games here, because we are really getting ripped off.

    i have hope tho, that this will change someday, after reading your article even more so.

    thank you

  140. Just pointing out a typo:

    "The people who made Starcraft 2 have families to."

    "to" should be "too"

  141. After playing hundreds of hours of TESIV: Oblivion I went out at bought it because the guilt was too much to bear.

    The only justification I can give for piracy is when developers don't provide game demos; it burns bad when you waste 50 or 60 bucks on a game that you just don't like. You can always pirate first and pay later. But most places you can't buy a game and then return it later (ironically, due to piracy).

    I'll also pirate a game for my friends so that we can play multiplayer together but that's just because my friends are cheap bastards who'd rather not play games with me than shell out.

  142. very nice post. I definitely agree with everything you said. I'll just add one additional point:

    When people say the piracy rate on PC is 90% (which is probably true, give or take a few percent), do they really mean "our sales would increase tenfold if we could just eliminate piracy"? For some reason, people who rage against piracy often see people as some kind of infinite money well. Like the average PC gamer could afford to buy *ten* times as many games as he does, if only he was a decent moral human being who didn't pirate my games!

    You already touched on poverty, but a person doesn't even have to be poor for this to be the case. Say I normally buy 1 game per month, that's around $50, which most people in the western world can afford without any problem. But 10 times as many? I don't know many people who'd *ever* consider it an option paying $500 a month for games, regardless of whether piracy is an option or not, and regardless of their disposable income..

    People tend to budget their money, whether or not they're poor.

    So if we assume for a moment that the amount people are willing to spend on games is constant, regardless of the piracy level, then magically eliminating piracy wouldn't suddenly make game developers 10 times as rich. It'd just mean reduce your fanbase to a tenth of what it'd be otherwise. Which limits the number of people who are going to even be aware of it when you make a sequel, much less consider buying it. Which means you might make even less money on that.

    Of course, the truth probably isn't that simple.

    People aren't infinite money springs, who could potentially buy *every* game if only they weren't tempted into piracy. But they could probably be brought to spend *a bit* more if piracy wasn't an option.

    But then the question is this: "is it worth limiting my audience dramatically, just to slightly increase sales? Is it better for me in the long term to ensure that as many people as possible are familiar with my games, or should I be kicking pirates off my lawn, preventing them from ever getting hooked on my game until they pay?"

    Soren Johnson (the Civ4 designer) posted on his blog a while ago that he used as a rule of thumb that only 10% of people are willing to pay for *anything*, regardless of what you do. 90% of the people who want to try your game, aren't willing to pay for it. They'll either pirate it, or just refrain from playing it. In free-to-play online games, it turns out that around 10% of the players pay for all the premium stuff.

    I think it's an important point to keep in mind: if you prevent people from pirating your game, they don't automatically become paying customers. They might just decide to play Starcraft 2 instead, and forget all about your game. Who does that benefit?

  143. Piracy gives you pride, because you know people are taking the legal risk to get your software.
    (see also:

    Sometimes, I pirate because I don't know if I'm even going to use the program often.

    There should be a subscription system where you pay a little as you use the program for certain amount of hours. (and only active use is counted)

    I was born in China, and in China, almost all games are pirated, and there are many ROM hacks there.

    My mom said about file sharing: "You have a piece of file, and I have another piece, and we share, that's communism". Communism is not a good word to use here, because when you think of "communism", you think "evil".

    If you can't pay for food and shelter, you may receive government support. That may be an argument to justify piracy, however, for some software, like Office and Photoshop, student pricing existed.

    There was a piracy debate going on, and at last, it turned into a free(dom) software, software pricing, and capitalism debate.

    The issues such as DRM and software pricing should be resolved before solving the piracy problem.

    "If everyone pirate, it will be bad", you are following Murphy's Law and analyzing the worst-case here.

    See @Angelo's argument:

    If everyone wanted to be a medic, we would have no plumbers, cooks, judges, policemen, bus driver, teachers, etc. So, it's wrong to try to be a medic.

    Do you think everyone in the world realize that it is possible to download a game for free, and do you think everyone in the world are OK with doing unethical actions and taking legal risks?

  144. A remarkably down to earth and wise perspective, sir. I enjoyed reading your post!

  145. Hey, Jeff - Ive only played the demos other than a game that was gifted to me, Avernum 5 specifically, because I dont like and refuse to use credit cards. I know that's my own fault - but keep reading please - if you were to allow a payment processor such as Paypal or Interac Online, you'd reach those of us with bank accounts that have money in them but no credit cards.

    Ive been tempted to pirate the avernum games, just because theyre out of my reach for that reason but its a temptation Ive resisted.

    Just throwing that out there.

    - Maya

  146. That was interesting read. I think most people who pirate games are just adolescent (in age or mind).
    When I was younger I pirated everything, I had money, but I didn't feel like paying for anything when I could get it for free (and faster).
    I'd come up with a plethora of excuses, anything from I don't know if my computer is able to run that to I wouldn't have bought it anyway so they ain't losing any money.
    Now I'm 23 old student with a temp job and I buy more games than I have time to play, I literally got a handful of games that I have never even installed (including Mass Effect). And ever since I started buying games I feel a lot better, I feel like I'm actually helping the industry and all that shit.

  147. Jimmy.

    That's because the lobby is doing his work fine.

    You're buying games just to feel good, and support the industry "and all that shit".

    Not because you want to play the games.

    Another comment, there are books on amazon and papers for learning english (in example) that costs around 20-30 USD, compared to the cost of a game like Startcraft 2 , do you think the price is "fair"?

  148. I'll say here that the first game of yours I ever played was the Exile 3 demo. I loved it so much, it entertained me for months and months. After that I grabbed the Exile 1 and 2 demos and played them for just as long. My grandparents (who I lived with) wouldn't buy me the games, however, so I continued to play with the demos. The first game of yours I ever bought was Nethergate, which I loved so much. I've beaten it multiple times and I still haven't found everything there is.

    Years went by and I sort of forgot about you and your games. I moved on to other things but eventually one day I thought to myself, "I wonder if that guy ever made any more Exile games?" and came back to your site. Lo, and behold, there was the first few Avernum games! I downloaded the demos and liked what I saw (it was the Exile games using the Nethergate engine, hell yeah!). It was around that time that I had gotten into piracy pretty big so the first thing I did was fire up a torrent for them all. I then proceeded to play and finish them all. Years later I started to feel bad about pirating all of those games (not just yours) and I went and paid for the games that I could, and for those that I couldn't I bought another game from that company (if possible). Then I went to your site and saw that you had made 3 MORE Avernum games, so I went ahead and bought all 6, just to show my support for you and to say thank you for making these truly excellent games, and to apologize for being such a dirty, dirty pirate.

  149. Lemme get my view of the basics out the way: People will pay because they think it's worth it, are goody goodies, or don't know how to pirate. Dedicated pirates remain in general ignorance about how they no longer give any cash over to an industry of hard working men and women they would otherwise, because they feel better that way.
    Or they feel bad about it but are too desperately poor to buy anything like that ever and figure it's not like anyone is losing out, or you don't offer the game in their language so why would they go through you?

    Well I like the idea of pirated games lacking the services and peripheral stuff of officially bought games. The high scores lists, the official, signed (lol) merchandise they send to your house, the community, a version in Russian, the cloud storage of your ownership licence and savegames so you can redownload on any PC.

    Games themselves are of course essentially one lot of expensive code then duplicated for anyone with the skill, for practically nothing. But the services, like hosting servers etc etc, will always cost money and be acountable.

    These services would inherently be missing in the free version, but when people want the various rewards of owning it officially, they'd buy the official version. And if they couldn't afford it, they'd still be glad to have been given the core copy. An olive branch to anyone with an internet terminal. That's what you'd be doing.

    Then the game may as well be free out there, like an epic demo. Imagine how much freer and more exciting the world of videogames would be then? How many people put off by paying for bad games would come back and try again. This model would work as long as the peripheral services were enticing enough that people who fell in love with the game, invested.

    Rose tinted spectacles you're saying. But it's the only way, man. The peripheral features of Steam for some games make pirate versions sound awful prospects to me, (my savegames have to be copied each time to USB what now?) and Steam still has a lot of unreaped potential. You say; designers have to design a load of peripheral features because Steam doesn't let in just anyone you know. But I'm sure the Indie Bundle guys could put something amazing together and share it out.

    That's how I'd try and deal with piracy. The opposite of the Ubisoft embugger everyone way. Subsume it, subvert it. Learn the lessons it teaches us. It bested us by being a better option for the less moral minded in terms of sheer value and little risk in getting a copy it makes, and be worth more. Offer a service people find genuinely desirable, better than it ever can. Stop the need for people to even begin hanging out with these shifty folks, by offering the extended demos it costs us nothing each time to offer, that we should have done in the first place.

    Some pirates might try and one up you, with an even better interface, but they're not really the kind of people who take pride in giving a service or being organized. You on the other hand, you love that shit.

    Although I guess you'd then have to deal with forgers instead of pirates, which is another matter, ish. It's hard to feel good about forgery, because then you are directly stealing the services meant for people who paid. And as a war it's easier to fight, with less paradoxes...


    How to forge yourself an Onlive account. Now that website would get a lot of hits. Then immediately be shut down by the U.S. Government.

  150. Lemme get my view of the basics out the way: People will pay because they think it's worth it, are goody goodies, or don't know how to pirate. Dedicated pirates remain in general ignorance about how they no longer give any cash over to an industry of hard working men and women they would otherwise, because they feel better that way.
    Or they feel bad about it but are too desperately poor to buy anything like that ever and figure it's not like anyone is losing out, or you don't offer the game in their language so why would they go through you?

    Well I like the idea of pirated games lacking the services and peripheral stuff of officially bought games. The high scores lists, the official, signed (lol) merchandise they send to your house, the community, a version in Russian, the cloud storage of your ownership licence and savegames so you can redownload on any PC.

    Games themselves are of course essentially one lot of expensive code then duplicated for anyone with the skill, for practically nothing. But the services, like hosting servers etc etc, will always cost money and be acountable.

    These services would inherently be missing in the free version, but when people want the various rewards of owning it officially, they'd buy the official version. And if they couldn't afford it, they'd still be glad to have been given the core copy. An olive branch to anyone with an internet terminal. That's what you'd be doing.

    Then the game may as well be free out there, like an epic demo. Imagine how much freer and more exciting the world of videogames would be then? How many people put off by paying for bad games would come back and try again. This model would work as long as the peripheral services were enticing enough that people who fell in love with the game, invested.

    Rose tinted spectacles you're saying. But it's the only way, man. The peripheral features of Steam for some games make pirate versions sound awful prospects to me, (my savegames have to be copied each time to USB what now?) and Steam still has a lot of unreaped potential. You say; designers have to design a load of peripheral features because Steam doesn't let in just anyone you know. But I'm sure the Indie Bundle guys could put something amazing together and share it out.

    That's how I'd try and deal with piracy. The opposite of the Ubisoft embugger everyone way. Subsume it, subvert it. Learn the lessons it teaches us. It bested us by being a better option for the less moral minded in terms of sheer value and little risk in getting a copy it makes, and be worth more. Offer a service people find genuinely desirable, better than it ever can. Stop the need for people to even begin hanging out with these shifty folks, by offering the extended demos it costs us nothing each time to offer, that we should have done in the first place.

    Some pirates might try and one up you, with an even better interface, but they're not really the kind of people who take pride in giving a service or being organized. You on the other hand, you love that shit.

    Although I guess you'd then have to deal with forgers instead of pirates, which is another matter, ish. It's hard to feel good about forgery, because then you are directly stealing the services meant for people who paid. And as a war it's easier to fight, with less paradoxes...


    How to forge yourself an Onlive account. Now that website would get a lot of hits. Then immediately be shut down by the U.S. Government.

  151. You made some very good points in your article, but I still don't think piracy is ever really right, and here's why:

    The artists, companies, and promoters who make games and get them on the market are the ones who put in the work to make the games available to us, so the right to decide under what conditions people can get the game belongs to THEM, and THEM ALONE. Maybe they don't want poor people and kids to be able to have their games for free. If so, that's their right. If they DO want poor people and kids to have their games for free, they should explicitly give them permission to take them for free (the way you did in this blog post), or set up a "pay what you want" scheme. I agree that pirating sometimes benefits the creators of games by giving them more exposure, but it's a trade-off, and it should be up to the creators to decide whether they want that. It doesn't matter whether the price of the game is "fair." Whatever the creators of the game want to charge is "fair," because if it weren't for them, the game wouldn't exist.

    Also, for someone to try to decide when they can actually "afford" something is a pretty fuzzy issue, and leaves a lot of room for weak consciences to take advantage of game developers. Take me, for instance. I have all the Geneforge demos and will probably buy the full games someday, but I'm holding back for now. I have lots of money in the bank and I could totally buy them all without taking money away from any essential expense, like food, housing or health care. The only reason I haven't bought them yet is that I'm not sure I want to pay the price; I'd rather keep my funds in savings. Does that mean I "can't afford them" and you don't mind if I steal them, or would you rather I wait until I'm even richer and feel like spending the money?

  152. Maybe you should try to get your games on STEAM Jeff? I've bought 3 of your games, so at least I can feel good with the fact that I helped you buy some food!

  153. Captain Sakonna

    ok. Now next time you go to the supermarket buy your food for 100 times it's price.

    They sell, you only should accept their terms or leave the shop.

    "so the right to decide under what conditions people can get the ****FOOD**** belongs to THEM, and THEM ALONE. "

  154. Yes, actually. If you produce food, then that food belongs to you, and you can sell it at any price you like. If you price it far too high and I can't afford it, then you're a jerk, but you're still exercising your rights. I think that charity should be freely given, not forced.

  155. This comment has been removed by the author.

  156. Not to mention the fact that, unlike food, games are not essential to life. They are a luxury. No one should be obligated to work hard for the sake of providing other people with free luxuries. Of course, if someone WANTS to give me a game for free, I won't say no.

  157. Here is a point that has almost but not quite been made from what I've seen. Paying for a game is like voting. If I buy a game at $59.99 the week it comes out, I am saying that I value this game (or what I think this game is) enough that I'm willing to pay the price of my entertainment dollars for it. If I buy a game on Steam for $14.99, I'm also saying that I'll pay at least this much for this game. In doing so I tell the game industry this is a game I want to own and this is a price I'm willing to pay. As more people have been willing to buy 2 year old games on Steam for lower price points, more publishers have been willing to offer them. This helps publishers make a decision on what sort of games and which developers they want to invest their capital into in the future. I'm just one voice, but I'm part of that economic conversation, and it is the economic conversations that usually have the loudest volume in the capitalist world.

    If you pirate your games, you remove your vote for the games of the future. In fact, you are putting your vote in for the DRMs of the future. If the industry thinks it can get more money by making it more difficult for people to pirate then it loses from people who simply won't buy the game with those restrictions, then that is how they will look at things in the future.

    Also like voting, if you can but don't participate in the process you really have no right to complain about the results.

  158. I'm noticing a lot of "I download games, play them, then decide if they deserve my money." I have a problem with this train of thought. Buying a game is exchanging money for a product, just like anything else. You don't get to go to a restaurant, order dinner, eat it, then decide whether or not you're going to pay. Not legally, anyways(unless something was objectively wrong with it, such as being served rotting food).

    I received a particularly stinging form of this as a musician. I was in a band, and we recorded an album. I took some of the CDs to carry around with me, because friends and family had asked about it. I had told the band's leader, who had paid all of the recording costs, that I would send him whatever money I got for it. When my grandmother asked about getting the CD, she didn't have any cash on her, and asked if she could get the money to me later. I said sure, since she was my grandmother. The next time I saw her, she said she wasn't going to pay me because she hadn't listened to it yet, and she didn't feel like she should pay for it until she had. She never paid for it.

    I get that there's a huge price difference between CDs and games, and that it really, really sucks to spend $30-60 on a game that could easily be horrible. I think that the people who download it and play it for an hour or two before deciding whether to purchase it are more a sign of companies needing to release demos. It's the people who feel entitled to play all the way through before deciding whether or not to pay that bug me. That doesn't make your piracy alright, or justified, and you are not legally entitled to make the decision of whether or not you should pay for the product that you are using. You can choose to not pay for it and download it illegally, but the only person who can decide whether or not to charge, and how much to let you see before you pay for it, is the creator.

  159. I know I've already blabbered on here a lot, but I'd like to put a word in to the people who say, "I never would have bought game X anyway, so where's the harm in pirating it? The developer isn't losing any money." My response to those people is:

    1. Do you REALLY know you wouldn't have bought it? It's hard to predict what might happen in a world where you couldn't pirate things. Maybe, after sleeping on it and letting things stew in your mind for a week or a month, you'd decide that you had to have it after all. If you go and pirate it right away, how will you know?

    2. Even if you would truly never, ever buy it for the price the developer is asking, it's probably worth something to you; after all, you're taking time out of your life to play it. Think about what you would be doing if you didn't have the game, and evaluate the costs of that other activity (including incidentals like gas; the library, for instance, is "free," but it isn't really free if you use your car to get there). Implicitly, you value the game at least as much as the cost of whatever it replaces. So instead of enjoying someone else's hard work for nothing, try at least writing a check for whatever the game is actually worth to you and sending it to the company that made it.

  160. @Captain Sakonna

    You wrote, "No one should be obligated to work hard for the sake of providing other people with free luxuries."

    But no one is suggesting that they should be! By the time there's a game to pirate, the work has *already been done*. Pirates downloading the game do not create any extra work for the developer.

    If the developer doesn't feel he has sufficient incentive to write games, then he shouldn't write them.

    And if enough developers feel that way and stop writing games, then it won't be long before people who want to play new games start throwing money at them, because the only way they're going to see new games written is to meet the developers' demands.

  161. 3. If you wait patiently, maybe the price will come down to a level that you find acceptable. You may say, "I can pirate it now and pay later," but if you do that, you're being unfair to all the people who pay extra for the privilege of having the game right away.

  162. @nicothodes9

    "Buying a game is exchanging money for a product, just like anything else. You don't get to go to a restaurant, order dinner, eat it, then decide whether or not you're going to pay."

    You're glossing over a huge difference: each additional dinner you eat costs the restaurant something, but each additional copy of a game you make costs the developer nothing.

    For the analogy to hold up, the restaurant would have to have a magic bowl of food that could provide dinner to an unlimited number of people at no cost. They had to spend money to buy the magic bowl, but now that they've bought it, it costs them nothing to use it. So once you've established that you aren't willing to pay them for dinner, it really makes no difference to them whether you eat there for free or go somewhere else.

  163. @Taradino:

    It isn't just about the developer's incentive, although that is a big part of it. It's about the fact that a small number of people (the "legitimate users") are the ones paying, and the pirates are profiting by it. If person A is a pirate and person B is an honest software buyer, then both get the pleasure of playing the game, but only person B has to help support the game's creator. That's unfair. Even if there are enough person B's to keep the system going, the person B's will always be victimized by the pirates. If everyone actually bought their games, the price for each individual copy would probably come down. The many are profiting at the expense of the few.

    I've read your earlier posts, and I think a contractual model like the one you propose could be perfectly acceptable, but the logistics might be just as prohibitive as our current system. If a billionaire wanted a game made just for him, it would be no problem; but getting together enough people so that each one would only have to pay, say, $20, and then making sure that all of them actually paid their share once the contract was signed, could be problematic.

  164. Also: suppose a large group of people got together and hired a developer to make them a game. Each person in the group pays the developer $20 and he goes away happy with a wad of cash. Then someone in the group starts giving away free copies of the game to others not in the group. You could expect some grumbling and regrets from some of the other group members, who paid for the game. In the future, they might avoid joining contract groups for new games; instead, they would hold out and wait until someone released free copies. This might lead to shortages of people to be part of the contract groups.

    I think such a problem could be surmounted if there were a clause in the contract, stating that, if you are part of the purchasing group, you can't give away any copies of the game until a suitable amount of time has elapsed. That provides an incentive for joining contract groups, since the people in the groups pay for a chance to get their hands on the game early (which is valuable to some people) and the "free riders" have to wait. But that still only works if everyone honors the contract and refrains from giving out copies until the deadline has passed. So, we're back to an honor system again.

  165. Also also: let's say that a particular developer refuses to make a game for less than $100,000 of expected revenue. Even though $100,000 is enough money to provide him with incentive, he has a right to see if he can manage to make $200,000, or even $1,000,000. Since he spent his time and effort to make the game, it is his property, and he can do with it as he sees fit -- including attempting to get as much as people are willing to pay. If his potential customers wait until he makes $100,000 and then start stealing games that they otherwise would have been willing to pay for, because they think the developer "has enough", I don't think that's right.

  166. Dear Jeff,

    There are very few people out their who are both honest and honorable. Fewer and fewer businesses that practice healthy business habits. Jeff, don't let anyone ever tell you that you're doing it all wrong. Your thoughtfulness and awareness are much needed. This is how you start a discussion and how you show understanding and maintain a healthy way of thinking. People will give you reasons why pirating is a good thing, others will give you reasons why profiteering is a good thing. However, both sides would be wrong, you went about addressing the issue in the right way and I only have that much more respect for you and the work you do.

    It looks as if someone else has been saying nice things about you as well over in the comments of Cliff Harris' latest blog post at Positech Games!

    You're a thoughtful person Jeff, I only hope that some your honesty and understanding will rub off on others.

  167. I started playing your games back when I was 14 or 15. I started on Exile 2, and played what I thought was the whole game. It was just the demo. It took me hours and I loved every bit of it. Two years later I remembered the game one day, and went to look for it, and found that another exile game was out. I played through that demo too. For Hours. And I loved it. Fast forward to 12 years later. I'm still playing your demos. Why? Because I LOVE IT. Thank you for making awesomeness. A bored little kid with a rough home life and a need for escape appreciates it.

  168. Captain Sakonna:

    "Then someone in the group starts giving away free copies of the game to others not in the group. You could expect some grumbling and regrets from some of the other group members, who paid for the game."

    I disagree. This is FALSE, you can't say this will happen, it shouldn't.

    About the "food", imagine ALL shops increase the price, do you still think the same ?

  169. @Captain Sakonna

    "If person A is a pirate and person B is an honest software buyer, then both get the pleasure of playing the game, but only person B has to help support the game's creator. That's unfair."

    I don't think it's unfair. No one is forcing B to buy the game; he made that choice himself. If he doesn't feel like he's getting a good deal, he can keep his money instead.

    "getting together enough people so that each one would only have to pay, say, $20, and then making sure that all of them actually paid their share once the contract was signed, could be problematic."

    Not really. It might have been problematic 20 years ago, but today there are many web sites that do essentially the same thing: collecting small contributions from hundreds or thousands of people and funneling the money to specific projects. Kickstarter and Sellaband are examples. Every political donation site also does basically the same thing.

    "Then someone in the group starts giving away free copies of the game to others not in the group. You could expect some grumbling and regrets from some of the other group members, who paid for the game."

    Why would they be upset? They knew what they were paying for, and they got it. They hired a developer to write a new game, and now they have access to something they never would have had if they hadn't paid. The world is a better place, in a way that benefits them directly (as well as others).

    They were *not* paying to have *exclusive* access to the game. Paying $20 doesn't give them the right to control what other people are allowed to do with their internet connections and CD burners.

    "In the future, they might avoid joining contract groups for new games; instead, they would hold out and wait until someone released free copies."

    That's fine. If they don't want to pay, they don't have to.

    But if no one pays, the game isn't going to be written. If they don't pay, they decrease the chance that the game will ever see the light of day. That's their choice.

    "Even though $100,000 is enough money to provide him with incentive, he has a right to see if he can manage to make $200,000, or even $1,000,000."

    Sure -- and the way to do that is by raising his price. He can start out asking for $1 million, and if he doesn't get enough buyers, he can ask for $200,000 instead, and then go down to $100,000 if need be.

    That's what everyone else has to do. I don't get to charge my employer extra for the work I've already done, just because I think I have a right to see if I can make more money. If I want to get paid more, I have to negotiate that *before* I do the work.

    "Since he spent his time and effort to make the game, it is his property, and he can do with it as he sees fit -- including attempting to get as much as people are willing to pay."

    I disagree that software is anyone's "property". It's a sequence of numbers. If I spend my time and effort to measure the speed of light, that number doesn't become my property. If I spend my time and effort doing your taxes, the numbers on that form don't become my property either. I might get paid for the time I spend doing those things, but I don't own the information that results from them. Why should software be different?

  170. Taradino C.

    I agree with you in most of the topics, specially in the last paragraph.

    If software is different then game developers and programmers has to pay because someone invented algorithms (collision, graphical things, etc), also they have to pay the Direct X and graphic cards that supports their game, maybe the OS, the microchip, you should pay Thomas Edison, and to those who "created" the first games in categories: role, arcade, shooters because they're the first who did it.

    Copyright protects authors, isn'it ?

    ah, ...they only want to get money.

    Then, peasants and workers (all of them) should charge for their work what they think it's fair. In example, 2000 times the real price. You can choose not to buy their product.

    Also if you buy a book, you CAN'T lend it to someone else (including familiars), and you can't put your songs in a way someone else than you can hear it because the copyright.

    Interesting link:

  171. Certainly not StarCraft 2. It's a prettier copy of the first one with fundamental features removed, like LAN.

  172. Figured I'd chime in on the end of this massive stack of comments... I'm endlessly pleased to find game devs like you that understand that piracy isn't always a bad thing, and that a lot of the people that do it would NOT have otherwise bought the game, either because they couldn't or didn't want to risk investment in a crappy product.

    I've known several people that pirated games only to decide it was a good one and buy it (or future games from that company). That's a whole different argument, however, and I won't go into it because it's a different morality question.

    Myself, I've pirated many games back in the early-mid 90's, including Exile III. In fact I was so in love with Exile III that I spent 8+ hours solid searching for a crack, back when finding such things was possible but not easy. But being in elementary school didn't exactly allow for buying things. Since then, I've given more than one recommendation (including asking PC Gamer to talk about your games) to everyone I know, and I've bought the Exile and Geneforge complete series (Avernum will come soon as well, faster if you ever get you stuff on Steam!).

    So thank you for one of the games that defined my childhood, and thank you for understanding why I got it the way I did!

  173. I only steal the Richard White games.

  174. Jeff, when you say, and I quote, "You can get piles of cool stuff for free. Or you can be an honorable, ethical being. You don't get both.", you're insulting what is in actuality the vast majority of western pirates.
    Among the people I know and are familiar with, the biggest pirates are also the biggest software purchases.
    People who will buy what they can legally support and pirate the rest.
    People who have access to piles of cool stuff to free, but who also help support what they deem the coolest part of their pile of cool stuff.

  175. Johnny, if you don't want to be insulted then don't be a thief. If I pay for 5% of my stuff and steal the other 95% I shouldn't be too surprised if people call me a thief.

  176. knight37, if your 5% is more than the average "non-thief's" 100%, I think you deserve at least as much respect.

    And if you aren't taking anything away from its rightful owner, you don't deserve to be called a thief. That aspect is the whole reason why stealing is wrong, and it's completely missing from copyright infringement.

  177. Sounds like more justification for stealing to me, if everyone did it we'd get about 5 or 6 new games per year.

  178. Nonsense. Do you really think all the people who pay money for games today -- including, as Johnny pointed out, a lot of pirates -- would be satisfied with only 5 or 6 new releases per year?

    If not, then why wouldn't those people keep paying the same money to developers to have them keep writing games? Or do you think the developers would refuse to accept their money for some reason?

    It's true that if everyone suddenly stopped caring about games and became unwilling to spend any money on game development, the number of releases would drop off. But that has nothing to do with piracy, and everything to do with gamers' tastes.

  179. the key is "good game", like the team says, if you like this game buy it. this is true some people don t have money to access video games, house, car food ... the problem is not link to the subject. people are not so in pleasure to hack a game, like they are no in pleasure to buy a shit. continue to provide a quality work and the major part of honnest gamer will give your money. i think the idea of radiohead : pay what you want for video game is a concept very clever to this media. you would be surprise of the result. you have to admit video games have lost the last ten years all their attributes it now only commercial mind so fuck major.

  180. I can always wait a couple of years until the game hype is over and the game is lying there, almost abandoned, in a basket labeled "special discount sale!" or something.
    I got my Quake3 game legally in 1998 (or so) including multiplayer key for just $3 and I still play it.
    So do others.
    Like it or not.

  181. Your article reminded me a lot of the times I spent in university: limited funds, lots of free time. I did pay for the one or two odd games (Diablo 2, C&C Red Alert 2), but I pirate tons of others.

    However, after finding a job, I like to say that I have yet to pirate a game anymore. I do attempt to "pay" for my past, via or some other digital dist site, for games I remembered pirating but having so much fun with them (Fallout 1 & 2, MOO2, Commandos 1 & 2, HoMM2, etc.).

    Now, I still purchase games whenever there are one of those crazy sales on digital dist sites, or when there is a release of a game I've hotly anticipating (Din's Curse, Eschalon series, Dragon Age, Fallout 3, etc.). The irony here is that I now have limited time between my job and family (have a newborn as of this time of writing).

    And after reading this, I feel the urge to simply buy the Avernum series. Damn.

  182. I must applaud you, sir. I will admit, I pirate games. I honestly try not to, but financially speaking, I'm unable to buy a lot of the games I want to try. The games I DO pirate, I'll usually end up playing once and deleting. Now, had I purchased those games, I'd be out $30-$50 each time. The last thing I want to do is waste more money.
    Secondly, if it's a game I truly enjoy, or made by a developer that I truly respect, I have no problem buying a game if I'm able to. Last year, I downloaded a copy of Modern Warfare 2. After I played completely through the single player campaign, I found I enjoyed the game so much, I purchased it. I haven't played it much since. Do I regret it? Not in the slightest... The game gave me hours of entertainment, and helped me forget about my problems for a short time.
    Another example is World of Warcraft. Love it or hate it, I will happily put down my $15.00 monthly because I (a) respect Blizzard and what they do for their customers, and (b) WoW gives me reprieve from various other things going on in my life. I could join a free private server, but I choose not to for those reasons. Blizzard has provided me months of entertainment, and I feel I need to repay them.
    I will say, after reading this post, it's good to see developers who aren't about just shutting down all piracy simply because they feel each pirated game legitimately equates to one copy of the game sold.

  183. @pyrodrake so basically if the game has a strong online multiplayer component making it difficult to pirate you'll pony up.

  184. I live in an small country where you can't buy legitimate games.You buy them for about 2-4$ and about 80% actually work so this is worse than piracy because we have to pay the pirates, and downloading them is not an option with 25KBps download speed.There are major retailers like Virgin Megastore but everything is overpriced and I'm not going to shell out 70$ dollars that I can get for a fraction of that price mostly because I'm 13 and I don't have a job.But after reading this blog post from a website about piracy news ( ) I decided I'm going to buy some of your games when I get the chance to because people like you are why I still have faith in the gaming,music,movies etc... industries.
    keep up the good work

  185. @knight37

    The online multiplayer component doesn't just make piracy more difficult -- it also provides a moral justification to demand payment.

    If I download a copy of your program from P2P, I'm not costing you anything or requiring any extra effort from you.

    But if I use your multiplayer servers, I'm adding to your server costs (bandwidth, storage, CPU, cooling, etc.), and for a continuously updated game like WOW, I may also be placing a burden on your content designers. It's easy to see why I should compensate you for that.

  186. @Jose Miguel:

    You're making the assumption that copyrights last forever. They don't. Eventually, either by the choice of the creator or the passing of a legal deadline, everything becomes public domain. That's why software developers don't pay royalties to the people who invented algorithms.

    "Then, peasants and workers (all of them) should charge for their work what they think it's fair. In example, 2000 times the real price. You can choose not to buy their product."

    As far as I'm concerned, they're welcome to do so! If they insisted on 2000 times the going salary, no one would hire them, but I surely don't mind if they try -- just as I don't mind if a developer charges an exorbitant price for his game. But I don't think it's right to steal the game if you don't like the price, any more than I think it's right to enslave a worker if you don't like the salary he's asking for.

    "Also if you buy a book, you CAN'T lend it to someone else (including familiars), and you can't put your songs in a way someone else than you can hear it because the copyright."

    Lending books to other people is not the same as copying software. Only one person can use the book at once; if someone just wants to read the book they can borrow it from you, but eventually, you'll want it back; so if they want one of their very own, they'll have to go buy it. I don't have a problem with people lending software discs to each other, if it's the kind of game you can't play without the disc. That's like passing a book around. Copying software is more like photocopying the book and giving the copies to your friends.

  187. @jennifer.hane

    The analogy between lending books and copying software becomes more apparent when you account for the differing ways in which those media tend to be used.

    That is, it's much less common to spend weeks or months reading and re-reading a single book than it is to spend the same amount of time playing a single game. As a result, it's easy to completely satisfy your desire to read a book simply by borrowing it. An avid reader can go for years on books he borrows from friends or checks out from the library, never needing to buy a copy of his own, even if he never borrows any of them for more than a couple weeks.

    Copying software fulfills the same purpose: it allows someone to completely satisfy his desire to play a particular game, in the same way that a library allows him to satisfy his desire to read a particular book. In both cases, he no longer needs to buy his own copy.

  188. @Taradino C.

    "If I download a copy of your program from P2P, I'm not costing you anything or requiring any extra effort from you."

    That is nonsense. Do you have idea how many people actually ask help/assistance EVEN IF THEY PIRATED game. Let me tell you, they are way more numerous than you can imagine. And their emails waste plenty of time...

  189. @Knight37 "Sounds like more justification for stealing to me, if everyone did it we'd get about 5 or 6 new games per year"

    So... If everyone did it, it being 'buying the games they can afford and then pirating the ones lower on the list that they can't afford', we wouldn't get any new releases?
    Even though the guy buying the games he can afford is buying the same ammount of games no matter if he pirates on the side?

    I call bullshit.

    Also, I resent being called a thief for supplying myself with entertainment without harming anyone. But I'll let it go this time.

  190. @Taradino:

    "I don't get to charge my employer extra for the work I've already done, just because I think I have a right to see if I can make more money. If I want to get paid more, I have to negotiate that *before* I do the work."

    Like it or not, that's not how things work in the software industry; right now, software producers don't have the option to negotiate prices before doing their work. Under the current system, the price of software is, in fact, negotiated after the work has already been done. The same goes for movies, music, books, paintings (some are commissioned, but the artist can still make unlimited prints) and just about any form of IP. If you pirate software because you don't want to pay for it, you are circumventing the negotiation process, and that's wrong. I don't mind your attempts to advocate for a different system, but I dislike your assertion that it's okay to take unfair advantage of the current system.

    "I don't think it's unfair. No one is forcing B to buy the game; he made that choice himself. If he doesn't feel like he's getting a good deal, he can keep his money instead."

    Sure, it's B's choice to buy the game, and he gets what he pays for. But other people are getting the exact same thing without paying a cent. How is that fair? What gives them the right to take advantage of the fact that B actually has enough moral conviction to give the developer his due? If the developer needs X dollars to stay in business, piracy prevents that cost from being equitably distributed among all players. Even if you have a pirate who buys some games, he probably downloads a lot more than he buys; so he's getting more entertainment than the honest buyers, but they're forced (by their moral convictions) to pay as much for a few games as he pays for several dozen. Fair???

    "If I spend my time and effort doing your taxes, the numbers on that form don't become my property either."

    That's because those numbers are an immutable fact of logic. Anyone who follows the laws of taxes and mathematics will come up with the exact same numbers; so, even if you calculated the numbers, you didn't really *create* them, you just discovered them, and others can duplicate your work by following the same universal rules. You might as well claim that a star in the heavens, or a wave in the ocean, is your property. Nonetheless, you do have some rights over those numbers. You could insist that you will only do someone's taxes on the condition that they never show the resulting numbers to anyone but the IRS, for instance. Now, why do I think games and other types of IP are "property"? Because IP isn't an immutable fact of nature; it involves creative energies. There is no inviolable set of math-like rules for making games. If you give two people the exact same resources and tell them to make games, they aren't going to come up with the same game; whereas two tax accountants will come up with the same numbers, barring mistakes. The exact combination of elements in a particular game is the result, not of rules, but of choices made by the developers. Even the code involves creativity, because there are multiple ways to code any particular game behavior. Therefore, it can be said that the developers actually *create* games through their labor; and, in my mind, when you create something using materials and skills that belong to you, the fruits of your labor are your property.

  191. Now, to return to your proposed alternate system. My initial reservations about logistics didn't come from the difficulty of collecting numerous small donations; with current internet technology, that's not a problem. Here's my concern: you either have to get people to pay into the game fund in advance (before the desired price has been met), or you have to tell them to make pledges, then pay once the price is met and the contract is signed. If you use the pledge method, then you might have trouble collecting on all the pledges once the deal is made. If you use the pay-in-advance method, you're asking people to put funds into a project that might fail to get enough donations and might never materialize. I'd be reluctant to make that sort of uncertain investment, even if the game looked awesome, and that's why I was concerned. However, it occurred to me just recently that if the fund didn't fill up and the project was canceled, you could refund everybody's money (that's not too hard with PayPal). So I think that difficulty is surmountable.

    Price negotiation would also definitely be possible, though it would have one disadvantage. Game developers typically collect sales for years after their game is released; some of these are from people who just wanted to wait for the price to come down, but others are from new buyers who just entered the market. A pre-paid contract can only take advantage of the existing market, and forgoes any possible revenue from future market entrants. Software developers might be willing to accept that to avoid piracy losses, though.

    I think you sufficiently answered my last contention. If you join a contract pool, the extra benefit that you pay for is an increased chance of getting the games you want; the ones who join the pools and donate control the supply, and the "free riders" just get whatever comes down the pike. Makes sense.

    So in summary, I think your pre-paid contract system could work. It's up to software developers and buyers to consider such a system and decide whether they'd like to give it a try. In the meantime, I don't think anyone is justified in milking free entertainment out of the current system. Distaste for the system is not a justification for stealing, even if all you want to do is play through the game once. Since software is bargained for after the work has already been done, you should participate in the bargaining process, instead of setting your own price (free) without the developer having any say in the matter.

  192. @AnonymousGerbil:

    Developers are free to limit tech support to paying customers.


    Software producers -- and filmmakers, musicians, authors, painters, etc. -- certainly do have the option to negotiate prices before doing their work. They just choose not to exercise it!

    You ask, "What gives [pirates] the right to take advantage of the fact that [someone who buys a copy] actually has enough moral conviction to give the developer his due?"

    Well, let's break down the process of piracy...

    1. Pirate A buys a copy of the game, in a consensual exchange of money for property.

    2. Pirate B asks Pirate A to describe an aspect of his property. Pirate A describes it in sufficient detail for Pirate B to apply that aspect to his own property.

    3. Pirate B uses the knowledge he just learned from Pirate A to modify his own property.

    I see one person engaging in a legitimate purchase and then exercising his right to free speech, and another person listening to that speech and then exercising his property rights. My question is, why *wouldn't* they have the right to do that?

    "If the developer needs X dollars to stay in business, piracy prevents that cost from being equitably distributed among all players."

    I don't believe it needs to be equitably distributed among all players. For example, under the system I've been promoting, the costs are disproportionately borne by the most enthusiastic, dedicated, or loyal players - the ones who are (literally) the most invested in making sure the game is finished and released.

    "but they're forced (by their moral convictions) to pay as much for a few games as he pays for several dozen. Fair???"

    Forced? That's an interesting way to put it.

    Suppose I feel a "moral conviction" to donate 10% of my income to the local school. Is it unfair that everyone else in the district gets to benefit from my donation? Does my personal moral code somehow obligate my neighbors to spend their money the same way I do?

    If you feel a moral obligation to pay someone else for copies, go right ahead, but don't complain that you're spending more money than your neighbors who have no moral qualms about making their own copies.


  193. @jennifer.hane (continued):

    "... even if you calculated the numbers, you didn't really *create* them, you just discovered them, and others can duplicate your work by following the same universal rules."

    This is true of software (and music, etc.) as well, when the problem is specified to the same level of detail.

    That is, there are many possible sets of numbers that can appear on a completed tax form. The possibilies are narrowed down by providing more information: whose tax return is it? How much did they make? Which deductions are they claiming? Do they want to donate $1 to the presidential election fund?

    Likewise, although you can get many possible programs by saying "make me a game about shooting asteroids", the set of possibilities is narrowed down greatly once you get specific about exactly how the frame-by-frame gameplay works, what the ship looks and sounds like, what hardware it has to run on, etc.

    Furthermore, you're not really "creating" the program. If you feed a certain sequence of bytes into a computer, you'll get certain behavior. Those bytes will *always* produce that behavior (given the same environment), whether they're painstakingly assembled by human hands, assembled automatically by a compiler from human-authored source code, discovered on a tablet that falls from space, or generated randomly.

    Programmers don't put our desired behavior into those bytes; we discover the bytes that already do what we want. It can feel like creation, because the compiler establishes a mapping between our "creative" source code and the gigantic set of possible programs. But the existence of those programs is a consequence of the design of the system, not our efforts.

    "and, in my mind, when you create something using materials and skills that belong to you, the fruits of your labor are your property."

    Does that mean your barber owns your hairstyle? Your tailor owns the precise length of your sleeves? Your house painter owns the color of the paint he mixes? A pirate owns the contents of the CD-Rs he burns? ;)

    Claiming ownership of the intangible attributes of the things you make or own leads to all sorts of silliness. Better to reserve ownership for the things themselves, I think.

    "A pre-paid contract can only take advantage of the existing market, and forgoes any possible revenue from future market entrants."

    Sure, but this is something that everyone else already has to accept. Turning a finite amount of work into an ongoing revenue stream for your grandchildren is a luxury that most professions do just fine without.

    "Since software is bargained for after the work has already been done, you should participate in the bargaining process, instead of setting your own price (free) without the developer having any say in the matter."

    I hope I've already sufficiently explained why I don't believe there's anything in the act of piracy that the developer is entitled to be paid for or even consulted about.

  194. @Taradino C. said...

    "Developers are free to limit tech support to paying customers."

    Of course they are. I think you never had to do tech support as small indie dev to your products?

    When I get support request, I HAVE TO VERIFY if it's valid request by checking somehow that it's not pirated copy. Usually by asking registration key and some details. It all takes time.

    I have tried to "automate" it by trying tech support straight from app and it sending hash of key etc. and just automatically thrash request if it's not valid. Problem is when you do this people start to use email instead...

    Sadly it's usually intel gfx chip and it's drivers that are culprit... :/

    So no matter what, developer end up wasting lot of time because of ppl running pirated copies are asking assistance. If you haven't had to do that, lucky you, but we all are not as lucky.

  195. @Taradino C. said...

    "A pirate owns the contents of the CD-Rs he burns? ;)"

    Nice try but stealing data and making copy of it is rarely creating a thing.

    Or are you now saying that pirates "create" games (when they copy it) and they should be allowed to sell it as their own creation? Or if I'd "create" copy of some chart top music, I should have right to sell it as mine?

  196. @AnonymousGerbil:

    I am saying that pirates "create something using materials and skills that belong to [them]". They don't use the same materials that the original developers did, but they end up creating essentially the same thing: a CD containing a particular sequence of bytes.

    I am saying that the sequence of bytes is not a "thing" that is "created". The CD is the "thing". The sequence of bytes is an intangible attribute of that thing, like the length of a sleeve or the color of a house.

    By the way, what do you think about the other questions I asked in that paragraph? If the sequence of bytes on a CD is a "thing" that is "created" and therefore "belongs" to the person who put effort into it, then surely that's true of these other intangible attributes as well...?

  197. Hello Jeff,

    I never played nor pirated any of your games, but the topic is very intriguing and indirectly has very profound effect on our everyday life, our personal freedoms and our welfare. I certainly believe that authors must be compensated for their work but it seems like attempts to do so are so far very ill-devised and akin to insisting on walking head on through a stone wall when there are ways around it or through the door, even.

    The problem with piracy lays in the very definition of information. The data is information (valuable, has power, could be sold, just like in stereotypical Bond flicks) only while it is unknown to would-be receiver - basically while there are no copies of it out of its possessor's control. Obviously, at the moment, major producers of desired information are trying to keep... , no, are imagining they can keep control over it after it passes their hands through constructs that exist only in our collective minds (morality, justice, laws, fear of punishment) and that's why there is this lamentation about immorality of pirates' ways - there is very little more one could do about it and attempts to do something were so far, frankly, quite disturbing and dystopian, not to mention unsuccessful in their alleged intent.

    Information is not something that could be sold on the market in units like vegetables are, modestly priced so that each individual end user can pay some fixed part of producers overall production cost & profit, the natures of the information and of material objects are too different. The holder of information needs to put his price up front and get paid before he releases the information, because it is too late after that, the bird is out of its cage.

    Therefore the solution to the problem is obvious: don't let anyone in the world get a copy of your new game before there are solid new $150000 (5000 copies times cca $30 or whichever sum you deem reasonable and satisfactory) on your bank account. After that, when you let the world have it, one way or another, you shouldn't care any more what the world will do with copies of your game, or who will be able to afford a copy, when or how.

    Now, there are certainly lot of different ways to accomplish that. I can think of few:

    1) set up a donation basket for purpose of "freeing" game, so that each of your fans can contribute as much as each one can afford or would spend.

    2) accept pre-pay registrations ("pay now, receive a copy when enough subscribers chip in, money back if it fails")

    3) announce that you will sell exactly one (1) copy of it for the $150K price (or set up an auction) to single ... ahem, "entrepreneur" and let the big sharks (major pirates) sell pricey copies to smaller sharks and they will sell more, somewhat cheaper copies to even smaller fish, ... rinse, repeat, until kids from third world countries don't get to buy their CD copies from local cardboard box street seller of pirated software, for price affordable in their part of the world. After that, or even much sooner, torrents of it will be available and even most stiff non-payers will be able to get a copy.

    Pretty much everything in the world would be as it is now, except that you would have your money secured and piracy would not be your problem.

  198. This comment has been removed by the author.

  199. salec: first part ok, but the ending...

    Your 3 proposals are not a real solution except maybe the first one.

    I would like to read what Jeff have to say about my next post.